As factories and offices shut down and people stayed at home in response to COVID-19 and lockdowns, air pollution dropped around the world. People living in cities from Delhi to Los Angeles witnessed and even celebrated how long-obscured mountains appeared on the horizon as the particulate matter pollution decreased, and evidence from both ground monitors and satellites found significant drops in lung-damaging NOx. But pollution didn’t go away in many places, and pollution exposure over time has made thousands more vulnerable to complications from respiratory illnesses. Deteriorating air quality in the early days of opening up has also highlighted the fleeting, partial nature of this glimpse of clean air. Without setting ourselves on a new trajectory, we risk coming back to a world of even dirtier air and populations even more vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution.

On June 18, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities brought together a panel of experts to lay out this new trajectory. In the webinar, part of WRI's "Build Back Better" series, WRI Ross Center's Global Lead for Air Quality Jessica Seddon was joined by Blas Perez Henriquez, Founding Director of The California Global Energy, Water & Infrastructure Innovation Initiative, Stanford University; Tim Searchinger, Senior Fellow at WRI and Research Scholar at Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University; Mathy Stanislaus, Interim Director at Global Battery Alliance (World Economic Forum) and Former Circular Economy Fellow at WRI; and Carolina Urrutia, Minister of the Environment for Bogotá. Beatriz Cardenas, Director of Air Quality at WRI México, moderated the discussion.

The panel emphasized that air pollution touches on more than just human health and climate change, affecting crop yields, rainfall patterns and forest health too. And the causes are complex, changing from place to place, day to day and across the supply chain. Speakers discussed three key transformations that we need for clean air: in energy, food systems, and sustainable consumption and waste management. They highlighted the leverage points for global shifts in a new air quality trajectory and then tracked this back to an integrated agenda for cities – where pollution and people overlap most.

Read more in the accompanying WRI Commentary by Jessica Seddon, Ken Wakabayashi and Beatriz Cardenas.

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Find the presentation slides on SlideShare.