KUALA LUMPUR: Greenpeace Malaysia has collaborated with Malaysian art duo co2_karbondioksida to turn photographs of blue skies collected from all over the world into an artwork, to coincide with the UN’s International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, which falls on 7th September annually.

Co2 are Oscar Lee and Celine Tan, an artistic team who work with discarded material in their art, based in Muar, Johor. As new parents to a baby girl, they created ‘To Dream of Blue Skies’ to represent their hopes of a future with clean air for their child. The art piece is a dream cloud hanging over a baby’s crib; the cloud is made from 2000 photos of blue skies printed on used paper that is sourced from a primary school. The images were submitted by citizens from around the world joining Greenpeace’s The Air We Share movement to demand clean air.

Oscar Lee from co2 said:
“The paper with children’s handwriting on it represents the path of learning that my baby will take as she grows older. Printed with images of blue skies, she will still be able to see blue skies when she’s young but if we do not act to tackle air pollution, the skies will get dirtier as she grows up. But at the end of the cloud, there are hints of blue skies to signify the hope of a clear, pollution-free sky again if we take immediate action now.”

“I’m sure most parents will resonate with this piece as we are all more concerned about our children than ourselves. As a parent, we will always work hard to provide the best for our children. Air pollution needs to be solved so that our kids and future generations can have a better future in a safe and healthy environment.”

Clean air is a basic human right, however air pollution has become one of the greatest environmental risk factors for human health. A recent report titled “Different Air Under One Sky: The Inequity Air Research” published by Greenpeace India estimates that 100% of the population in Malaysia live in areas with an annual average PM2.5 air pollution level of 5-25 μg/m3 or more, which is above the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for safe air quality.

Risks are not evenly distributed amongst the population, with some groups of people at greater risk of harm. The report presents examples where groups including infants, the over 65s and pregnant people are more likely to be exposed to high pollutant concentrations, or have less access to local air quality data when compared to the total population. Therefore real-time information about the quality of the air we breathe is the first step to solving this problem.

Other Key Findings from the report:

  • In 2021, the WHO published new annual average air quality guidelines after discovering negative health effects at much lower levels of air pollution than previously thought. The revised guidelines stipulated that the average annual concentration of PM2.5 should not exceed 5 μg/m3, saying that even low concentrations pose a significant health risk.
  • Over 99% of the population of countries included in this research are breathing air that exceeds WHO health-based guidelines with respect to PM2.5.
  • Vulnerable groups such as pregnant people, children, and elderly face greater health risks from long-term exposure to the elevated PM2.5 levels across Malaysia. These include increased risk of preterm births, respiratory illnesses, worsening of other medical conditions, and increased risk of death.
  • On average, 1.96 years of life expectancy are lost living in PM2.5 pollution levels between 5-25 μg/m3.
  • There are 65 governmental AQ stations in Malaysia. About 20% of the total population in Malaysia does not have any AQ stations within 25km.
  • Populated districts in Malaysia have a higher percentage of people with access to AQ stations within 10km. On the other hand, in around 22% of districts in Malaysia, the entire district has no access to AQ stations within 25km. Lahad Datu, Kinabatangan and Hilir Perak are examples of districts with large populations who have no access to local air quality data.

Greenpeace Malaysia Campaigner Heng Kiah Chun said:
“The revised WHO air limit guidelines is another wake up call that we have to take urgent and immediate action to tackle air pollution. Dirty air affects everyone on this planet but some groups of people are impacted more and have less power to change the situation.”

“We are calling on everyone to stand together to demand for their basic human right to clean air. The Malaysian government should make ambient air quality standards legally binding, time-bound and enforceable through transparency, access to information, public participation and accountability.”

WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, Dr. Maria Neira said:
“Very often I have to repeat these horrible figures – 7 million premature deaths caused by exposure to air pollution, 99% of the world population are breathing unhealthy air based on WHO standards and not breathing air that will protect their health. On the contrary, they are breathing polluted air that will cause very serious health problems. In addition, there are inequities as the most vulnerable, the poor population, are the most affected. This is an unacceptable way of living. We all need to take action. We all have the right to breathe clean air.”

‘To Dream of Blue Skies’ will be exhibited at Muzium Telekom, Jalan Raja Chulan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 8th September 2022 to 8th October 2022. Entry is free and open to the public.

About the Report and Research
The report released for the U.N. International Day of Clean Air for blue skies (7 September 2022), investigated air pollution in seven countries, including India, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa, by assessing peoples’ access to air quality monitoring stations and the exposure to air pollution experienced by vulnerable groups.