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D.C. joins international pledge to reduce air pollution

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The city is committing to set “ambitious” targets in the next two years

A domed Capitol building surrounded by office buildings.
The U.S. Capitol and surrounding buildings in D.C.
Getty Images/Westend61

The District is among 34 global cities at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, today signing a declaration to put aggressive clean air policies into practice by 2025. And within the next two years, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration promises to “set ambitious pollution reduction targets ... that meet or exceed national commitments,” per a release from the C40 Cities group. Other cities taking the pledge include Austin, Berlin, Copenhagen, Houston, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Madrid, Mexico City, Paris, Sydney, and Tokyo.

“According to the World Health Organization, nine in 10 citizens around the world breathe dirty air, and 7 million people die prematurely each year due to air pollution,” explains the climate group. “Air pollution is creating a global public health crisis—one that is rooted in social injustice. Typically, it is the poorest and most vulnerable communities that are most affected by dirty, polluted air.” The D.C. area has high levels of ozone, or smog, because of motor-vehicle emissions and pollutants that originate at coal-fired power plants to the west.

The 34 cities are following guidelines set by the World Health Organization, which are based on so-called “particulate matter” levels of sulfate, nitrate, ammonia, and other compounds in the air. As part of their pledge, the cities are committing to publicly share their progress over the coming years. They also showed support earlier this week for a “Global Green New Deal” that would seek to wean cities off fossil fuels and limit global temperature rise in accordance with the Paris Agreement. The District bound itself to that landmark agreement—along with some 200 other U.S. cities—in 2017, even though the federal government had pulled out of it.

At the time, Bowser said: “The effects of climate change are already here, and without proper planning and collaboration they will be catastrophic. It is in the country’s best interest to take climate change seriously, and as the nation’s capital, we have a special obligation to create policies and implement programs that protect our environment.” The mayor, whose current term runs through 2022, previously launched D.C.’s official climate-readiness plan in 2016. The city also has a resilience strategy to handle the effects of more severe floods and storms.

D.C. Department of Energy and Environment director Tommy Wells is attending the C40 summit on the administration’s behalf. The summit, which began October 9, ends Friday.