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The United Nation’s 2023 Sustainable Development Goals Summit on 18-19 September marked the half-way point to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) deadline. The summit brought together governments, international organisations, the private sector, civil society, and other stakeholders to review the current state of the SDGs, and provide political guidance on how to accelerate the work in the lead up to 2030.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are 17 aims adopted in 2015 as a global mission to address poverty, inequality, environmental degradation and promote sustainable development. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with improving health, as well as education and reducing inequality, while tackling the threats of climate change.

Encompassing sustainability, health and equality, it is no surprise that achieving the SDGs will have positive results on pollution levels across Europe and beyond. Pollution is a broad threat which requires different approaches to tackle it efficiently. It is not only about enacting best practices to minimise emissions from country to country, but also to address the unequal impacts and resulting health consequences within countries, especially for disadvantaged communities. BEST-COST is researching the health impacts of air and noise pollution, while also looking to understand the underlying socioeconomic costs and determinants. Through this research, we will be able to develop policy initiatives that address both the health risks of pollution and reduce the inequalities it causes.

The SDGs whose targets relate to tackling pollution are:

  • Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages – As well as meeting the commitment to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from pollution and contamination by 2030, equitable access to health must also be addressed through access to healthcare and healthy environments.
  • Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all – transitioning to sustainable energy will also serve to significantly reduce pollution levels by reducing emissions.
  • Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation – A shift towards greener industrialisation and infrastructure will decrease energy consumption and pollution levels.
  • Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries – Pollution is often overlooked as a detriment to equality. Disadvantaged communities are more likely to be at higher risk to exposure with less resources to take preventative measures, leading to long-term health issues.
  • Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable – As urban spaces have the highest levels of air pollution, we need green cities to protect the health of everyone in urban areas.
  • Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts – The causes of air pollution, such as fossil fuel emissions, are also the causes of climate change. Both must be addressed hand-in-hand for effective action.

The summit closed with leaders recognising that we are currently not on track to meet the 2030 targets. Now, urgent and committed action is needed to reduce air pollution levels and reduce the impacts on our health. While the political declaration is a welcome outcome to ensure commitment, to see coordinated global action that accelerates the transition to a just society, we need clear goals to mark each year in the run up to 2030 to address each SDG and protect the health and wellbeing of everyone. Through BEST-COST’s research, we will identify solutions to reduce pollution levels and the resulting socioeconomic consequences for Member States across Europe to implement into policy action.