Delhi’s schools have been recently closed due to severe air pollution levels to avoid exposure of children to polluted air. State of air pollution is getting worst in India as well as in other countries. .

Arnav eleven-year-old student from a school in Delhi says “Air pollution is devastating for the environment and our lungs. I know the problem of air pollution because I have asthma and bronchitis. During the winter season it gets particularly difficult to breathe because of stubble burning and fire cackles, people burst on Diwali. Why is our right to clean air not within the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child? My question to the United Nations is when will I get to breathe the clean air I want?” .

Ahead of World Children’s Day at the “Freedom to breathe: A Child’s Right to Clean Air” virtual event held on 16 November, the Vice-Chair to the Committee of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Philip D. Jaffé, confirmed that clean air will be elevated within the UNCRC through the forthcoming General Comment no.26.

Over last six months children from the India, US, UK and China have been demanding their right to clean air through the Freedom to breathe campaign. Centre for Environment Education (CEE) a national institution from India had implemented this campaign in schools of Delhi. The campaign was implemented in four cities showing some of the worst levels of recorded pollution – Bejing, Delhi, Los Angeles, and London. This was taken up in partnership with Blueair, Global Action Plan, the Coalition for Clean Air, Centre for Environment Education, India and Safekids Worldwide.

Through this campaign 29,674 children worldwide made this call to declare children right to clean air where 13500 children calls were made from India. This campaign has empowered children to join this call for their right to clean air with the support of their teachers through an education programme. As part of the programme, the children learned about the importance of clean, healthy air and how they can take action to improve the air they breathe and were offered the opportunity to call for their right to clean air.

The children’s call was further supported by 62 signatories comprised of civil society organisations, academics and businesses including UNICEF UK, Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), Unilever and the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP). In a letter penned to members of the United Nations Committee of the Rights of the Child, signatories declared their support for children’s right to clean air being elevated within the UNCRC.

The campaign emphasized on the fact that nine out of ten children around the world are breathing in toxins that exceed safe levels which can interfere with critical stages of organ development in a child. Children are more physiologically vulnerable to air pollution based on their smaller relative size and they have greater exposure to air pollution based on their relative faster breathing rate, per unit of body weight, compared to adults. By 2050, UNICEF predicts that air pollution will become the leading cause of child mortality and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2016 alone, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.

Further urgency for change is also being pursued by the WHO which recently slashed its global air quality guidelines. Based on an improved understanding of the devastating impacts air pollution has on human health, in September 2021 the organization halved the guideline for particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution and quartered the guideline for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution.

The Freedom to breathe campaign hopes the Committee of the UNCRC’s acknowledgement will lead to clean air becoming more anchored within the UN system, providing authoritative guidance for States that will accelerate action on air pollution globally. The campaign will be sending a submission through the public consultation on General Comment 26 (children’s rights and the environment, including climate change).

Dr. Edward Avol is co-author of the USC children’s study on air quality impacts on children’s health says “Children are especially vulnerable to dirty air because they are growing, and research shows that body organs can be very sensitive during growth. Lungs, brains, and other tissues can take decades to fully develop, so air pollution has the potential to cause lasting harm. Additionally, children are more active than adults and may not know to “take it easy” when the air they are breathing is polluted. Research suggests the damage caused may be irreversible. To protect this generation and future generations of children, we must clean up our dirty air!”

Ms. Sherebanu Frosh, Warrior Moms from India says “My kids, our kids are breathing unsafe air. Almost all kids in the world. We, who are part of organisations working on air pollution, simply cannot afford to work in silos. To tackle toxic air in our countries, it would be extremely powerful to unite on an international level – driven by the very basic needs and demands of our children. As we prepare on a war footing to get clean air, this would unify us going forward, and it would also give us the needed ammunition to get our demands heard by our leaders and make real change.”

Ms. Sara Alsén, Chief Purpose Officer at Blueair mentioned in her talk that “Blueair was founded on the belief that business should be a force for good in society. For the last 25 years, we have been fighting for every child’s right to breathe clean air. I’m so proud that, today, the UN acknowledged our fight and recognized that clean air, just like clean water, should be the right of every child.”

Ms. Sonja Graham, CEO at Global Action Plan said “Change is more likely to happen now that we have the support of the Committee of the UNCRC so this acknowledgment is a brilliant step in the right direction. Through the Freedom to breathe campaign, the children came to recognise that clean air is an essential necessity for life – just like clean water and healthy food - we are thrilled that the UN is acknowledging this too.”

Shri Kartikeya Sarabhai, Founder Director of CEE says 'several studies indicate that children are one of the most vulnerable to air pollution. It becomes a matter of great concern when everyday new diseases are getting connected with air pollution. Education and communication can act as a key driver for change to advocate and network for taking concrete actions. Recognizing the rights of children towards clean air is an important step to ensure a sustainable future".

Sixing, eleven-year-old student in Beijing, China said: “I think clean air is extremely important. We children don’t have fully developed lungs, and our immune resistance is much lower than adults. We are very fragile, and we need cleaner air.”

Arnav eleven-year-old student in Delhi, India said: “Air pollution is devastating for the environment and our lungs. I know the problem of air pollution because I have asthma and bronchitis. During the winter season it gets particularly difficult to breathe because of stubble burning and fire cackles, people burst on Diwali. Why is our right to clean air not within the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child? My question to the United Nations is when will I get to breathe the clean air I want?”

Farron, ten-year-old Primary School student in London, UK said: “I have asthma which is a condition against the lungs and as I have got older I have realised it is the air around us and the pollution that is causing it. Why do the United Nations not think that clean air is our right?”

To learn more about the Freedom to breathe campaign and why children everywhere deserve the right to clean air, visit: and find the children’s campaign call film here:

International Children’s Day: Young children across the world are as  concerned about air pollution as COVID-19

Tuesday 1 June 2021 - Two-thirds (67%) of young people from India, China, the UK and US are worried about how air pollution will affect their health, which is almost as much as they worry about the health impacts of catching COVID-19 (72%), new research by Global Action Plan and Blueair reveals.

The research, which includes an international YouGov poll of over 4,000 children, from China, India, the UK and US and focus groups* finds that despite currently living through a pandemic, children believe that poor air quality can have serious impacts on their health and development.

Further findings include:

  1. Children in the UK have the lowest level of agreement that adults are doing enough to protect the air they breathe (at 24%), whilst children in India report a higher level of agreement at 71%. Half of children in the US (50%) and China (57%) agree that adults are doing enough to protect the air children breathe.
  2. In India, young people report significant impacts of poor air quality on their day-to-day lives with 32% saying that before Coronavirus, air pollution stopped them from playing outside or running as fast as they would like to every day. Further to this, a third of children (33%) in India felt air pollution stopped them from being able to breathe easily every day.
  3. The average result (combining all four countries) shows that the children overwhelmingly believe they should have the right to be able to breathe clean air (94%).

Despite predictions by UNICEF that by 2050 air pollution will become the leading cause of child mortality, clean air is currently not among children’s rights defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and is not formally recognised worldwide. In light of this and the overwhelming support from children globally through the polling, Global Action Plan and Blueair today announce the launch of the “Freedom to breathe” campaign.

The campaign aims to empower young people to join together to call on the United Nations to acknowledge their fundamental right to clean air.

As part of the campaign, a school’s programme is educating children on the importance of breathing clean air and what they can do to minimize their exposure to common sources of harmful pollution. This is being delivered through local delivery partners in cities from each of the four surveyed countries which have some of the worst levels of recorded pollution – Bejing, Delhi, Los Angeles, and London. In India, Centre for Environment Education (CEE) a national institution is partnering with GAP and Blueair to implement the campaign in schools of Delhi.

Sonja Graham, CEO at Global Action Plan, says:“It is astounding that clean air is not among the rights of children worldwide. Access to clean air is vital for children to be able to live long healthy lives and realise their full potential. Children have the right to clean water, a safe home, why do they not have a right to clean air to breathe?”

Sara Alsén, Chief Purpose Officer at Blueair says: “For the last 25 years, Blueair has been fighting for every child’s right to breathe clean air. By teaming up with civil society actors who share our belief that it’s time to make access to clean air—like access to clean water—the right of every child, we are bringing our founder’s purpose to life.”

Kartikeya V. Sarabhai, Director at Centre for Environment Education, India says - 'Several studies indicate that children are one of the most vulnerable to air pollution. It becomes a matter of great concern when everyday new diseases are getting connected with air pollution. Education and communication can act as a key driver for change to advocate and network for taking concrete actions. Recognizing the rights of children towards clean air is an important step to ensure a sustainable future".

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, Founder of the Ella Roberta Family Foundation and WHO advocate for health and air quality says: “Children have a right to breathe clean air. Children recognise the emergency and are demanding that policy makers do what's necessary to protect their health and future. The coroner's decision in Ella's inquest made clear that the UK needs to adopt WHO air quality guidelines and follow them. But air pollution is a global pandemic, so every country should do the same."

Respiratory specialist professor Sir Stephen Holgate says:“Children’s developing organs and immune systems make them especially vulnerable to dirty air. As they grow, they continue to be at high risk from air pollution because their immune systems, lungs and brains are still developing. The fact that the air they breathe is not recognised as a right highlights the lack of understanding and awareness surrounding its harmful impacts. Every day, around 93% of the world’s children under the age of 15 are breathing air so polluted that it poses serious risks to their health and development. Globally, we must start treating air pollution with the seriousness it deserves.”

Notes to Editors: 

Blueair is a world leading producer of air purification solutions for home and professional use. Founded in Sweden, Blueair delivers innovative, best-in-class, energy efficient products and services sold in over 60 countries around the world. Blueair is part of the Unilever family of brands

Global Action Plan is a charity that helps people live more sustainable lives by connecting what is good for us and good for the planet. We're the people behind Clean Air Day, the UK's largest air pollution campaign. We work with people on bringing about compassion not consumerism and increasing wellbeing – what is good for us is often greener too. And we bring business and young people together to work on building a sustainable future. Helping young people develop the skills and knowledge to tackle environmental issues is good for the planet and everyone’s future too.

Centre for Environment Education (CEE) was established in 1984 as a Centre of Excellence of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. As a national institution, CEE’s mandate is to promote environmental awareness nationwide. CEE develops innovative programmes and educational material and builds capacity in the field of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). It is committed to ensure that Environmental Education (EE) leads to action for sustainable development.

YouGov data: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 4054 children aged 6 to 15. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12th March - 14th April 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of each country (aged 6-15).

*Focus groups were carried out to gain insights from young people about their understanding and perception of air quality issues,and their views around children’s rights and responsibilities to clean air. Focus groups were carried out across Delhi, London, Los Angeles and Beijing with over 150 children aged 7-16, in March – April 2021. They were carried out by; Centre for Environment Education (India) Coalition for Clean Air (USA), Global Action Plan (UK) and Safekids China (China).

Please find links to our:

Outlook on Climate governance and water policy, with a focus on participatory approaches

4 February, 2021, by Srishti Singh

The increasing water stress and growing global demand, coupled with the consequences of climate change has forced tough decision-making in water resources allocation and has emerged as a dire need to tackle the developmental challenges.

India has 4% of the world’s fresh water resources on which about 17% of the global population depends. With declining ground water level and with 92 million people without access to safe drinking water[i], India is the fifth most affected country on account of climate change as per the Global Climate Risk Index 2019[ii]. On the other hand, India acquires an intriguing dual position in the global climate politics – as a developing economy with low levels of historical and per capita emissions, and as a large and rapidly growing economy with rising emissions. The country also carries an additional responsibility of meeting the development needs and economic progress of its vast population, to build climate resilience and reduce the vulnerabilities. This essentially calls for appropriate governance mechanisms to address the changing water scenarios as well as mainstream climate adaptation into sectoral policies in order to ensure water security.

Picture Source: Ashraful Haque Akash, Unsplash

Climate change responses in India’s water sector is emerging, primarily in the form of building adaptive capacity and no-regret type activities as response to multiple factors. The task of developing appropriate water policies to meet short-term water usage and demand priorities as well as in adapting to uncertain climate change impacts is tedious and requires long-term integration of economic, social, and environmental factors, with effective governance structures and approaches to optimize outcomes.

Participatory approaches, in the policy development process, are one of the core principles of good governance and have the ability to ensure coherence in cross-sectoral decision-making as well as implementation, thereby leading to sustainable solutions. The approach if strengthened across levels could prove vital for sustainable management of water as well as also helps bridge the gap between the policy formulation and implementation, striking a right balance between central top-down policies and subnational bottom-up approaches, along-with ensuring long-term ownership of the plans and projects to complement the adaptive water management initiatives.

Sustainable policy development, thus calls for imperative participatory approaches in order to have truly bottom-up decision-making processes for designing, developing and implementing coherent policies. This also will potentially help improve the water governance to facilitate vertical (among levels of government) and horizontal (among sectors, and geographies) co-ordination, and to resolve conflicts.

A human rights-based approach supported by good governance is at the core of water security. This approach has a potential to address critical gaps and bottlenecks, as well as emphasizing the establishment of regulatory mechanisms for efficiency, participation and accountability. The economic, social and environmental value of water would keep changing with the deepening climate crisis and this changing nature also needs to be kept in mind during policy formulation. Shifting of priorities to local, decentralized, small-scale, community-led adaptive water management and conservation hence need to be considered in the national planning processes.

“We do not have to worry about policy incoherence, if the people are truly involved in deciding their own water security arrangements.”  (Securing Water for all, Development Alternative, 2015)


[ii] files/Global%20Climate%20Risk%20Index%

The blog is an excerpt from the study conducted by Centre for Environment Education (CEE) with financial support from Hans-Seidel-Stiftung India (HSS India) which draws opinions from secondary literature, policy analysis and organization’s experiences over the years. The study is mainly intended for discussions to strengthen coherence between existing policies and potential actions, through promoting stakeholder engagement within water policy and climate change governance.

Gandhi and Cities

1st October 2020 - by Kartikeya V Sarabhai

Talk at 'Gandhi and Cities' webinar on 1 October 2020, organized by INHAF as part of its Rethinking Cities series

            Most of Gandhiji’s comments on settlements deal with villages. He has written about his concept of an ideal village. One which is largely self-sufficient for its essential needs and interdependent on the outside world only where necessary. [1] He saw a village unit meeting most of its needs of food, clothing, livelihood, education, recreation, playgrounds for children, worship and settlement of disputes. He saw these units as maintaining their own law and order through community recruited village guards. The community would also look after their own waterworks and ensure clean water supply. Sanitation was a core concern and the unit needed to ensure that.

            One can think of replacing the word village with urban neighbourhood or ward. Look at the governance of a city in a much more decentralized way with increased local and community sense of ownership, control and responsibility.

            The Covid pandemic has demonstrated that when human activity, especially mobility using motorized transport, slows down, it has a dramatic effect on the environment. Air becomes more breathable. We have witnessed people in north Indian cities like Jalandhar, going up on their terraces to see for the first time the Himalayan sky line at the distance. The digital revolution has given us tools of being able to work and communicate from a distance, including the holding of this series of webinars, without moving out from our homes. I remember my college days of spending hours inside libraries searching for books I wanted to refer. Today that too is largely possible from my home. Last night I wanted to refer to the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG) and I could instantly do this on my phone using the wonderful Gandhi Heritage Portal being run by the Sabarmati Ashram. But to achieve a decentralized, neighbourhood community managed city in which ownership is felt by communities of their neighbourhood requires changes in the way we thing and govern cities. In my mind Gandhiji would have insisted on this.

Cities, with all their plus points can also alienate people. The sense of an ownership and belonging is critical to this and to make cities better places to live in. The local community in a Gandhian sense need to be the Trustees of their area, their environment. As we think of Gandhi and the City today, we need to expand on what Trusteeship means in the urban context. Trusteeship at the city level and at the neighbourhood level. In most of our historic cities, the business, trade and commercial elite have had and felt a sense a belonging, ownership and pride in their cities. There are innumerable examples of citizens building public facilities, institutions, giving in charity and doing things for the wider community. Today CSR enables businesses to give and get involved. But my sense is that today there is an increasing feeling that public spaces and public works belong to the Municipality or Government. The level of consultation and public debate, of involving people in decision making is lower. The feeling of efficacy is also lacking. Forums for public participation in civic affairs need to be enormously strengthened.

It would also be wrong to think of Trusteeship as something to do with the rich and more fortunate. A person looking after the tree in front of their dwelling as if it her responsibility, is no less a trustee of the city as someone who can engage at larger levels. The point is that a city needs to be run as a partnership between people, the community and the authorities. In many cases we do see Municipalities working in this direction. In Pune, the Centre for Environment Education, (CEE), has been engaged for several years in getting communities to participate in local ward level budgeting and deciding on priorities. Environmental agendas call upon a lot of people’s participation, whether it is the Clean Air Action Plan or the call of waste management at source. Better segregation and neighbourhood level composting of wet waste. Writing in 1935, Gandhiji said, “What I would personally prefer would be not a centralization of power in the hands of the State, but an extension of the sense of trusteeship; as in my opinion the violence of private ownership is less injurious than the violence of the State….I would support a minimum of State-ownership.”[2]

At the foundation laying ceremony for the MJ Library at Ahmedabad, Gandhiji remarked, “I wanted Ahmedabad to be a city beautiful. But beautiful in my own sense of the word. Of course it should have….. gardens and scenic beauty, but I expect it to have inner beauty as well…… If anything is bad here, we are to blame for it. We have made Ahmedabad dirty.         Yet to this day I cannot certify that Ahmedabad is a clean city. There is no fragrance, the whole city stinks….. The neighbourhood could be cleaned if ……. (we) …….. could again rally men and women volunteers to do it”.[3] Sardar Patel was the head of the Municipality at the time, but it is important that Gandhiji underscores that this can’t be done by the Municipality without the active involvement of people. But he also concedes that “it is not recognized that a municipality does not deserve to exist where streets and lanes are not scrupulously clean all the hours of the day and night…… To think of all the municipalities in the aggregate and to wait till everyone has begun the work is indefinitely to postpone the reform. Let those who have got the will and the ability commence the reform in right earnest now, and the rest will follow”[4].

Today, 87 years later, we still have parts of our city that stink. When we started work at Thaltej Tekra, and Kirtee Shah and I ran the magazine AmdaVadmA in the late 1970’s, the Thaltej hill was the highest in the city. Today that is no longer true! The Pirana hill of waste is taller and from a distance can well be mistaken for a natural hill.  

Talking about Dr. Hari Prasad’s seven month long effort to keep the city of Ahmedabad clean Gandhiji writes “Those who do not know how to serve their own city can never serve their country..….. This effort to keep the city clean is an example of co-operation between a municipality and the citizens..…..It is possible to raise the necessary funds to make Ahmedabad a model of cleanliness…….. The money given for this work will bring a handsome return, for if the city has sufficient number of open grounds with trees in them…… the health of the citizens will improve considerably and the price of the land will also appreciate. The citizens can insist that the expenditure should be incurred under their own supervision. Hence the money given for this work will not be a gift but will be an instance of economic foresight”[5].  It is interesting how Gandhiji well understands the minds of the wealthy and alludes to the price of land going up! But important in this quote is also the fact that citizens need at times to actually be directly involved in city improvement schemes.

We at CEE were given a barren plot by the AMC in 1996. We planted trees and tried to involve youth groups and the community. 18 years later, in 2014 this was handed back to the Municipality. A Community Walkers’ group from the neighbouring residential societies had been actively contributing to the upkeep and protection of the urban forest as it developed. CEE therefore while handing over the plot to AMC involved them in the process for their continued involvement. The AMC on its part handed the plot to a Business house to manage it under a CSR project. The Community Walkers’ group members continue to use the space and take up issues with AMC and others regarding its protection as a forest.  Such projects are possible and Gandhiji’s idea of voluntary citizen involvement in cities is possible.

Unfortunately waste is not the only ‘stink’ in our cities. We have a long way to go in removing poverty and unemployment, giving dignity to all our citizens including very importantly the informal sector. The rag pickers are a key to making it possible to take the city towards a circular economy. They remain on the fringe of the city’s decision making and policy despite the important role they play in the city’s economy, often as invisible citizens.  The problems and prejudices of caste and religion continue to be deeply ingrained. I have always been a proud Amdavadi. But soon after the Hindu-Muslim riots in Ahmedabad, a senior staff at CEE, said that she has decided to leave the city because she as a Hindu women married to a Muslim man cannot find a decent house in Ahmedabad. They were refused everywhere. I think that moment for me was such a moment of shame for my city. Any number of such stories of Dalits and Muslims and a few other groups continue to shame us on a daily basis.

Writing to Dr. Hariprasad Desai in November 1944 Gandhiji writes, “I Shall be satisfied only if Ahmedabad helps me realize my dream, that is, if untouchability goes root and branch, men and women…attain equality, the inequality between the rich and the labourers is removed, drink and gambling are stopped,…ideal cleanliness of the heart as well as in outer life is observed and no one suffers hunger. Do whatever you can out of this and persuade others to do so”[6].

Gandhi’s key concepts on decentralization, trusteeship, participation, importance of sanitation, discrimination, non-violence, are all crucial to building a sustainable future for our cities.

For Ahmedabad a special contribution of Gandhi was also the establishment of Majoor Mahajan Sangh (the Textile Labour Association, TLA) for the peaceful settlement of disputes in this case between workers and mill owners. Institutional mechanisms to take these ideas forward are essential if they are to become a reality.

[1] M K Gandhi, India of My Dreams, Navjivan, 1947, 2016 edition p 98.

[2] M K Gandhi, p. 68

[3] Speech at foundation laying ceremony at MJ Library, Sept 21, 1933. CWMG vol. 56, p 15-16

[4] M K Gandhi, Municipal Life in Young India, 29 -10-1925, Vol. 28, p. 400-402

[5] M K Gandhi, Navjivan, 9-5-1926, CMMG vol. 30, p. 424-425.

[6] Letter to Dr. Hariprasad Desai, November 19, 1944, CWMG vol. 78, p. 316