Athlete Calls for Concerted Effort to Tackle Air Pollution Worldwide
Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), 2 June 2013 - Following some traditional Mongolian throat-singing and a rousing performance by a military brass band on the starting line, Kenya's Patrick Makau - the marathon world record holder - officially launched the Ulaanbaatar Marathon today as part of festivities leading up to World Environment Day (WED) on 5 June.
Makau - a Clean Air Patron for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) - flagged off over 400 runners, who made their way past the new skyscrapers and construction sites that dominate the capital city of one of the world's fastest-growing economies.
The star athlete will remain in Mongolia this week to promote World Environment Day (5 June) - the UN's biggest event for positive action on the environment, which is organized by UNEP. Mongolia is hosting global WED celebrations for the first time.
As the marathon runners crossed the finish line under the steely gaze of statues of national hero Genghis Khan, Makau highlighted the need to continue efforts to tackle air pollution - an issue that remains of one Ulaanbaatar's most critical environmental challenges.
"Whether it is in Kenya or Mongolia, when we are competing as athletes, clean, pollution-free air is essential," he said.
"In the run-up to World Environment Day, it is important that we continue efforts to reduce air pollution, and the serious damage to health and the environment that it causes. Such actions can reduce disease levels and ensure we leave a healthy environment for future generations," added Mr. Makau.
Due to Ulaanbaatar's rapid population growth, the number of vehicles in the city has doubled over the past decade. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over half of Ulaanbaatar's vehicles do not meet emissions standards, and 80 per cent of the fleet is over 10 years old.
Other major sources of air pollution include the city's three coal-fired power stations, and the burning of coal and wood in indoor stoves in the city's expanding ger districts. Located on the outskirts of the city, the districts - named after Mongolia's traditional white canvas dwellings - house thousands of recently-arrived migrants from rural areas in search of better job prospects in the booming capital.
Through indoor and outdoor air pollution, residents of the ger areas (an estimated 175,000 households) are exposed to high levels of soot, sulphur dioxide and other pollutants linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and other health problems.
A recent study by the World Bank found that the level of soot-like pollutants - known as particulate matter - in the air in the ger districts was up to 7 times higher than World Health Organization standards.
Efforts to tackle the problem are already underway. The government has been promoting cleaner, more efficient cookstoves, while traffic restrictions have been introduced in Ulaanbaatar to cut emissions from vehicles and to help ease the city's chronic congestion.
Together with national governments, UN agencies, and other partners, UNEP, through the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), has been spearheading international efforts to raise awareness of the major environmental and economic benefits of cutting emissions of soot, black carbon and other air pollutants.
Kenya is among 30 countries that have joined the Coalition to express support for scaled-up actions across the transport, oil and gas, and waste sectors to limit emissions of these and other substances, collectively known as short-lived climate pollutants (SCLPs).
UNEP studies show that fast action on black carbon and methane have the potential to slow global temperature rise by up to 0.5°C by 2050, reduce air pollution-related deaths by as much as 2.4 million, and avoid around 30 million tonnes of crop losses annually.
The CCAC is working with ten major cities including Rio de Janeiro, Lagos, Stockholm, Accra, and Tokyo, to reduce methane emissions from from landfills, and black carbon or soot from burning waste.
World Environment Day celebrations will continue in Mongolia this week, before climaxing on 5 June. Events are set to include the launch of the country's first wind farm, and a number of activities focusing on sustainable mining, indigenous communities, and the growth of the country's eco-tourism industry.
Notes to Editors
B-Roll footage and hi-res photos of Patrick Makau at the Ulaanbaatar Marathon are available via FTP.
Login details as follows:
Host Address: ftp.unon.org
For technical problems, please contact: Josephat at [email protected]
or Chris at [email protected]>
More information on World Environment Day 2013 is available at: www.unep.org/wed
The Climate and Clean Air Coalition website is available at: www.unep.org/ccac