by Marcia Walker

I’ve just arrived at the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in California to represent the Global Call for Climate Action (GCCA)  – an organisation which has a 10-year history of building broad climate movements and supporting diverse voices and networks to take action on climate change. For most seasoned climate campaigners this summit is the first of its kind in raising the level of climate ambition following commitments made at the historic Paris Agreement. It is a moment to celebrate the achievements of states, regions, cities, companies, investors and citizens with respect to climate action but is also intended to send a strong message to national governments ahead of this year’s UNFCCC COP 24 in Katowice. It is time to raise their game, increase national ambition and accelerate climate smart policies.

A future climate activist wears a mask with the message, “Bogotá free of fossil fuels,” before the Rise up march in the capital (Photo by Antonio Hill)

The Global Climate Action Summit is hot on the heels of the grassroots movement
#Riseforclimate where some 800 events took place in 88 countries calling for decision makers at GCAS to escalate work on decarbonization. This people-powered moment brought diverse groups together to demand health and climate justice. From the Global Catholic Climate movement calling for #LiveLaudatoSi, to networks like Moms Clean Air Force representing several generations of people disproportionately affected by toxic air caused by emissions from vehicles and coal powered stations. They evidence the increase in asthma in children exposed to heavy air pollution, and the likelihood of older men and women developing dementia through toxic air. Among all those who took part in this global gathering, the message was resoundingly clear: that despite progress made at the Paris Climate Summit, this is no time for being complacent.
While I’m intrigued by what the big name climate influencers, like Christiana Figueres, Mayor  Anne Hidalgo, and even Harrison Ford, have to say, I’m most excited to meet those frontline champions and changemakers with local level climate action experience. I’ll have the chance to hear their stories of change at two key side events. The first is a forum dedicated to health and climate change organised by several of our partners including the Global Climate and Health Alliance and the US Climate and Health Alliance – both well established networks of health professionals who play a pivotal role in appealing for urgent solutions to protect our health and our climate.
GCCA works with this growing movement of health professionals to help generate the scale and urgency of action needed for clean air in their cities via Unmask my City – a global initiative led by doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, promoting tangible city-level solutions and policy changes that will drive a clear, downward global trend in air pollution by 2030.  Here, speakers include Dr Alex Simidchiev, Air4Health, who represents the latest network of health professionals from Bulgaria to join Unmask My City – a country which, according to the WHO, has the third highest mortality rate from air pollution in the world. I’ll also be keen to hear from Iyad Kheribek, on how the C40 Cities are improving the quality of life for citizens by encouraging active and sustainable transport in 96 cities – where a third of greenhouse gas emissions comes from transport. This approach chimes with work of our Brazilian partners, Bike Anjo and their Bike to Work  campaign in São Paulo, which has  a strong focus on the health benefits of active mobility and air pollution reduction.
The second event is a is a roundtable session on ‘Cities, air pollution, climate change and health: scaling up solutions’, where diverse stakeholders who are actively tackling air pollution in cities will explore the best ways to use advocacy to help drive solutions to mitigate emissions of air pollutants. The roundtable is co-organised by BreatheLife – a campaign led by the World Health Organization,  UN Environment and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition and the global initiative, Unmask My City. The aim of this session is to formulate a set of recommendations to feed into the WHO’s first ever global conference on air pollution and health in Geneva 30 October – 1 November which GCCA is looking forward to being part of.
There is a positive air among the climate nexus arriving at GCAS – mainly as the summit is expected to capture and build on the global momentum of climate actions taken at local, state and city level, ahead of December’s COP24.  The challenge though is how to turn this awareness into action. With air pollution responsible for 1 in 9 deaths worldwide, we need to incentivise different actors to build a broad public mandate for clean air and find solutions to improve people’s health and reduce global warming. A clear win win.
Marcia Walker, Global Campaign Strategist, GCCA, 11 September 2018