Remark by David Renz, Chargé d’Affaires at the Air Quality Management Plan

David Renz,
Chargé d’Affaires
 at the Air Quality Management Plan In-brief
Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa
 February 27, 2020

 (As prepared for delivery)

Your Excellency Engineer Alemi Asefa, Commissioner of Addis Ababa Environmental Protection and Green Development Commission;

Distinguished colleagues from the international community;

Ladies and gentlemen;

Good morning.

I’m very pleased and honored to join you for this briefing. As I look around this room, I’m reminded of a simple fact – whether you’re a permanent resident of Addis Ababa, or a guest like me, we all share a common desire to live and work, and to raise our families, in a healthy environment.  An environment in which the air we breathe is clean and pure.

That’s why I’m particularly pleased to join with you, Commissioner Alemi, and the members of the city administration of Addis Ababa, to improve the air quality of this fine city. Addis Ababa is a city on the move.  Its growing vitality and energy will provide the jobs and prosperity that its residents demand. Some would argue that air pollution is the price, indeed a fair price, for economic growth.  That growth must take priority over some quality of life. Yet the idea that environmental needs run counter to our economic or development goals sets up a false choice.

It’s possible to tackle the challenge of protecting and improving air quality while also sustaining the rapid economic growth that will take Addis Ababa and its residents to a new level of economic success.Clean air is not a luxury; it is a necessity.  Quite literally, we can’t live without it.  And I’m sure everyone here agrees we share an interest in protecting this critical resource. The fact is that advances in environmental standards can contribute to economic performance.

Since 1970 in the United States, emissions of six key air pollutants have dropped by an average of 70 percent, while our gross domestic product grew by 246 percent. This is not a coincidence. We made those gains, and protected the environment at the same time, through sensible policy, enforceable standards, and the use of more efficient technologies.

The health of the American people improved.  And with improved health, came greater productivity, leading to more economic growth, a virtuous circle. Given the incredible potential of the people of this city, I’m convinced there’s no reason Addis Ababa can’t follow a similar path to growth and improved quality of life for all of its residents. When it comes to environmental protection, we tend to count the cost of action, but fail to consider the cost of inaction. But for this city and its residents, including all of us, the consequences of not acting are tragically real.

The average annual level of PM2.5 particulate matter measured here in Addis Ababa is at least two to three times higher than World Health Organization guidelines.  Software modeling allowed us to calculate conservative estimates of how many residents in Addis Ababa die prematurely from such extraordinary levels of particulates, and the numbers we will hear today are sobering. This analysis is backed by three years of regulatory-grade data on PM2.5 collected through an air quality monitoring program at the U.S. Embassy, as well as data gathered from a rapidly expanding network of air quality sensors around Addis Ababa, and from satellite data.  It’s reflected in the draft Air Quality Management Plan we will learn about today. Taken all together, the numbers make a compelling case that the time to act is now.

That’s why we join Commissioner Alemi, and the city administration of Addis Ababa in asking for your support as the draft Air Quality Management Plan is finalized in the months ahead.  The United States is fully committed to this critical effort, and in the early stages of allocating new funding to support the city and the region. And we ask you to join with us, the city administration of Addis Ababa, and the residents of this great city to coordinate direct actions that will help save lives and improve the quality of life for all us.  The plan discussed today identifies many opportunities for your engagement.

Thank you for your participation.  Let it be the first step toward meaningful support for better air quality.

Here’s to clean air for all of us.

Thank you.