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  • Writer's pictureCCAP

Canadian Wildfires Spark Conversations about Clean Air, Clean Air Policy Making

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Understanding CCAP’s role in the growing conversation about clean air


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The calls for improved air quality are intensifying as wildfires blazing in Canada send smoke down the eastern coast of the United States and bring hazardous air conditions to a number of major cities including New York and Washington. The ongoing influx of news and buzz surrounding the topics of air quality and pollution are reminiscent of the early days of clean air legislation when the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) was born.

hazy city skyline
Photo by Ahmer Kalam on Unsplash

Policymakers in 1963 and 1970 passed the original Clean Air Act to combat hazardous and toxic air pollutants, acid rain, chemical emissions and endless haze that devastated the nation, posing health risks such as cancer as well as a multitude of environmental threats. At the time, the conversation surrounding clean air was primarily focused on addressing nitrogen oxides (NOx), ozone and sulfur dioxide (SO2).


CCAP’s story began in the 1980s when governors from around the country mobilized to create the organization. The organization’s original goal was to make amendments to the Clean Air Act and curb four major concerns to the environment and to the health of millions of Americans: acid rain, urban air pollution, toxic air emissions and stratospheric ozone depletion. In 1990, the organization played a key role in the passage of SO2 programs, allowing companies to comply with pollution limits through emissions trading.


Today, the fight for clean air on these fronts remains, but new global environmental disasters and different climate pollutants have also arisen. Policy makers from around the globe are now armed with an ambitious set of tools and resources to prevent an environmentally degraded world and work towards a green, clean and prosperous future for all.


The catastrophic situation in Canada this week has displayed the intensity and extent of current climate change conditions due to increasing temperatures and drier conditions. In the first week of June, more than 3 million hectares of land had already burned—about 13 times the 10-year average in the country. The smokey dull orange skyline-blocking haze has transcended national borders in cities, nearly a thousand miles apart.


The Associated Press reported that “the air quality index, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) metric for air pollution, exceeded a staggering 400 at times in Syracuse, New York City and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. A level of 50 or under is considered good; anything over 300 is considered ‘hazardous,’ even when healthy people are advised to curtail outdoor physical activity."


The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that exposure to the fine particles in wildfire smoke is harmful to humans, causing symptoms such as irritated eyes and throat as well as difficulty breathing. Those who are in high-risk groups—such as older individuals or individuals who are pregnant—may experience more severe symptoms. The worse the air quality, the more dangerous it becomes to all people, regardless of their current health status.


Because wildfires are closely linked to climate change, reducing the health and environmental risks of wildfires requires addressing global emissions. The situation in Canada has also demonstrated the need for global intervention as pollutants cross the US-Canada border and cause significant harm to both countries.


In 2015, the landmark Paris Agreement from COP21 was adopted by 196 parties with the aim of bringing nations together in a binding agreement to combat climate change, adapt to its effects and limit global warming to 1.5°C by the end of this century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that to meet this goal, countries would have to invest $1.8 trillion-$3 trillion annually in green infrastructure. The current goals for climate finance fall far behind this figure. As reported by Bo Li of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “So far, we are seeing only around $630 billion dollars a year in climate finance across the whole world—with only a fraction going to developing countries.”


Clearly, critical issues regarding clean air remain relevant, with harmful pollutants such as methane and carbon dioxide contributing to air quality concerns around the world. Many are still failing to address these greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the level of urgency that this situation requires.


To contribute to fixing these issues, CCAP has a global focus, following the lead of the Paris Agreement and helping countries to reduce their GHG emissions and meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) or scale up the ambition of their current NDCs. CCAP works with countries to support the implementation of the tools and resources available to reduce the threat of air pollution, along with the many environmental, economic and ecological crises that accompany a warmer climate.


CCAP is addressing methane emissions, a pathway which is among the fastest to prevent global warming in the short term, as 60% of these emissions come from human activities. Cost-effective reductions in the three main anthropogenic sources of methane—waste (18% of global methane emissions), agriculture (42% of global methane emissions) and fossil fuels (36% of global methane emissions—could avoid 0.3°C of warming by 2050. Even though it is responsible for half of today's net global warming, methane receives only 2% of global climate finance.


CCAP is helping countries achieve the Global Methane Pledge, launched in 2021 during COP26 in Glasgow, to reduce global methane emissions and keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. Over 150 countries have signed the pledge, and CCAP is actively helping participating countries from around the world to achieve their methane reduction goals.


The Paris Agreement calls for “making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.” With this goal in mind, CCAP is advocating to operationalize and implement Article 2.1(c) of the Paris Agreement to align financial flows toward a shift from brown to green investments. This includes providing policy tools to governments and private parties looking to increase climate funding and supporting and developing funds used to reduce and offset global emissions—in other words connecting a wide range of sustainable projects to align with the policy goals of the Paris Agreement.


CCAP is also working towards the implementation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement by supporting governments and local communities in understanding and implementing carbon markets to achieve their climate goals. Carbon markets allow companies or individuals to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon credits from entities that remove or reduce GHG emissions.


CCAP helps secure fair and equitable agreements between indigenous communities and the private sector, while creating capacities for communities to make the most of options available to them in terms of voluntary carbon markets, creating simple solutions and plans for the community leaders to effectively make decisions. This includes implementing REDD+ projects, which reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, in addition to other forestry activities, which account for the largest source of emissions in certain countries.


When CCAP was initially established, the organization’s intent revolved around providing the United States with policy solutions to ensure clean air. While CCAP’s scope has grown larger, and its means of obtaining clean air have changed, the goals at the heart of the organization have remained intact and grown stronger as the need for climate action has escalated in every part of the world.


The current wildfires in Canada demonstrate the need to take comprehensive and global action to protect our air and climate. CCAP works on the international stage to mobilize funds and provide tools for governments to mitigate and prepare for the adverse effects of climate change. Our experience in the field allows us to develop policy and market-driven solutions that make a real difference on both the global and local levels.


Stay Connected


There are numerous ways to stay connected with CCAP. Follow us on Twitter @CCAPolicy and on Facebook & LinkedIn.

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CCAP’s mission is to support every step of climate action, from ambition to implementation. A recognized world leader in climate policy and action, CCAP creates innovative, replicable climate solutions, strengthens capacities, and promotes best practices across the local, national, and international levels to accelerate the transition to a net-zero, climate resilient future. CCAP was founded in 1985 and is based in Washington, DC.



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