Climate change is the major, overriding environmental issue of our time and adds considerable stress to our societies and to the environment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.
Air pollution is the single largest environment-related global health risk of our time, killing approximately 6.5 million people globally every year. In North America, over 140 million Americans live in municipalities with unsafe levels of air pollution and nearly 6,500 Canadians die annually from poor air quality.
The issue of air quality and human health is being addressed through the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), which was launched by UNEP, the U.S., Canada, and other member states to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), a major contributor to climate change and air pollution. Addressing the issue of SLCPs has the potential to slow down global warming by as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.
The CCAC, UNEP and the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the global BreatheLife campaign to mobilize cities to institute policies to protect our health and the planet from the effects of air pollution. The goal is to meet WHO air quality targets by 2030.
Vehicle emissions are the main source of outdoor air pollution globally with poor fuel quality and weak vehicle regulations leading to increasing vehicle emissions. The Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, launched by UNEP, countries and civil society, supports governments in adopting cleaner fuels and more efficient vehicle technologies and standards. The partnership has been most successful in the global elimination of leaded petrol, reducing the number of countries currently using it today to only two.
Transportation also plays a large role in the global challenge of tackling climate change. With the number of vehicles around the world predicted to triple by 2050, maximizing fuel efficiency by using existing cost-effective technologies could halve CO2 emissions from the global car fleet by 2050.
The Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) is a partnership between UNEP, International Energy Agency, International Transport Forum, International Council on Clean Transportation, Institute for Transportation Studies at UC Davis, and the FIA Foundation, which works to secure real improvements in fuel economy. The goal of the initiative is to increase worldwide fuel efficiency in light duty motor vehicles by 50% by 2050.
Renewables and Energy Efficiency
A majority of the global energy system is based on fossil fuels—about 60% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions responsible for climate change. Despite the rapid rate of technological innovation and associated cost reductions, renewable energy and energy efficiency options must still compete with carbon intensive energy technologies. UNEP supports new advances in solar, wind, geothermal, bio power, and a variety of new energy storage systems to encourage American and Canadian business and government leaders to make advances in renewables and energy savings.
UNEP is also a key partner of the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative, which promotes Sustainable Development Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.