Clearing the Air: Clean Air Fund Calls for Philanthropic Boost as Air Quality Funding Plateaus
A dense toxic smog in New Delhi blocks out the sun. (8 November 8, 2017).

The Clean Air Fund (CAF) urged philanthropic funders to significantly increase their support for programs and services to enhance air quality with a new report published in time for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 in Davos.

“It is vital to ramp up the scale and impact of air-quality funding from this sector,” the fund wrote in the report.

The report showed that philanthropic foundation funding for air quality surged to $330 million from 2015 to 2022, with annual financing experiencing a more than fourfold increase during that period. Nonetheless, the data indicates only a marginal uptick in 2022, with estimated funding for air quality from foundations at $71.3 million—a slight rise from the previous year—hinting at a deceleration in year-on-year growth.

From 2019 to 2021, annual increases averaged $14.7 million, whereas during the subsequent period from 2021 to 2022, the increase dwindled to just $3.8 million.

Moreover, outdoor air-quality funding accounts for less than 0.1% of all foundation funding.

“Funding for air quality from foundations has increased but remains a minuscule proportion of total philanthropic funding,” said CAF CEO Jane Burston. “Air pollution is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, with 99% of the world still breathing toxic air.

“I urge funders to recognize that air quality isn’t a niche issue and work together to tackle the problem,” she continued. “By doing so, we can act on climate change, improve our health, strengthen economic outputs, and address social inequality all at the same time.”

Air Pollution’s Deadly Toll

Pedestrians in Bangladesh cover their faces to keep from breathing in dust and smog. Air pollution takes 22 months off the average life expectancy in Bangladesh, according to recent reports. (Photo: Rashed Shumon)

Air pollution causes 8.3 million deaths a year, including 5.1 million from fossil fuel pollution, according to an article published last year in the BMJ. In addition, air pollution can have long- and short-term health effects. The report cited a connection between air pollution and cancer, heart attacks, diabetes and strokes, as well as exacerbated asthma and even miscarriage.

The situation is more acute in low- and middle-income countries, which bear the burden of nine out of 10 deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution.

Philanthropic Gaps in Air Quality Funding

CAF’s report focuses exclusively on funding for air quality from philanthropic foundations. The data was gathered through direct engagement with foundations actively providing grants related to air pollution and from online and public sources. These foundations encompass various forms, including individual, family, and business entities or those funded through public donations.

CAF is a global philanthropic organisation that funds programs that promote air quality data, build public demand for clean air and drive policy change.

In its report, CAF also noted that foundation funding is meager in countries that need it most. For example, Africa, home to 50% of countries with the highest air pollution based on population-weighted PM2.5 exposure, received only around 1% of total outdoor air quality funding.

It also showed that more than a quarter (26%) of funding was aimed at communications and raising awareness projects; only around 10% went toward implementation (12.3%) and data (11.5%) projects.

Strategic Shifts for Air Quality Action: CAF Recommendations

Severe air pollution in Anyang, China in January 2022. Africa and the Middle East are among the world’s pollution hot spots according to the largest-ever collection of WHO data.

CAF called on foundations to shift their priorities and examine opportunities for partnerships to increase scale and address air pollution alongside other causes. It also stressed investing in air-quality data, which, it said, is necessary to build policy and strategy.

“A major barrier to progress on air pollution in many contexts is the lack of solid local data and analysis of air-pollution levels, including the sources of emissions and the localized health impacts of dirty air,” the report said.

Finally, it noted that “health funders should support efforts to understand the health costs of air pollution and health benefits of action and to better understand health-equity impacts on marginalized groups.

“They can also play a role in synthesizing evidence on the interplay between air pollution, climate and health security, including vulnerability to epidemics, the resilience of health systems, and negative feedback loops between climate change and air quality – such as wildfires, desertification and heatwaves – which exacerbate health risks,” the report concluded.

Image Credits: Rashed Shumon, Wikipedia, V.T. Polywoda.

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