Nairobi : Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of India’s largest mobile-first financial services conglomerate Paytm, vowed to tackle air pollution across the globe as he became UN Environment’s Patron for Clean Air.
As UN Environment’s newest patron, Vijay will help drive greater environmental action and awareness, and advocate for the goals of UN Environment’s global #BreatheLife campaign – a major initiative on air quality seeking to influence policy and citizen action for a healthy future.
With 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathing unsafe air, indoor and outdoor air pollution is the world's biggest environmental health risk, killing about 6.5 million people worldwide.
“Delhi is like a mother who is saying she is in pain,” Vijay said, referring to the problem of air pollution in his adopted hometown. “This starts from Delhi and becomes a national and global concern.
“I am honoured to be appointed UN Environment Patron of Clean Air. We can't achieve economic well-being without ensuring the well-being of the environment. The private sector is key to ensure cleaner air and a more sustainable future for us all.”
According to the World Health Organization, half of the 20 most-polluted cities in the world (levels of PM2.5, a fine particulate matter), are in India, with Delhi coming in at number 11 overall.
Air pollution is, however, a global problem. Cities in Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia make up the rest of the top 20, while London, Paris and other major cities face growing problems.
Featured in Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People’ 2017 List, Vijay launched Paytm Payments Bank in 2017. As India’s largest digital bank, it aims to provide banking and financial services to 500 million un-served and under-served Indians.
Vijay identified three major opportunities for action on air quality during his designation at the UN Environment Assembly, which brings together over 2,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials and civil society representatives in Nairobi to tackle the global menace of pollution.
Electric vehicles and making people more aware of the problem and its solutions are high on his radar, but he sees better measurement of India’s air quality as an important first step over the next 12-18 months.
With his appointment, Mr. Sharma joins Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh and Wilderness Patron Ben Fogle.
“Tackling pollution requires all of us, citizens, governance and business to come together. We need more champions in the private sector like Mr. Sharma to drive innovation that will get us to a cleaner future,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.