How Can Asian Cities Better Manage Air Quality?

 

City authorities in Asia are on the front-line in the fight against air pollution and climate change. But what additional action can Asian city authorities take to better manage air quality?

Many Asian cities are grappling with the challenge of poor air quality with their efforts being hampered by limited financial, human resources and technical capacity. As a consequence, city authorities are not always able to determine the extent of their air pollution problems or take the most appropriate measures.

This is a significant issue for outdoor air pollution is one of the top five risks to human health in developing countries in Asia. In 2012 air pollution was responsible for more than 2.6 million premature deaths in the Western Pacific and South East Asian regions. The issue of urban air quality will become an increasing problem as the urban population expands. Currently, 16 of the world’s 29 megacities (urban agglomerations of more than 10 million people) are located in Asia. By 2030 it is estimated 23 out of 41 megacities globally will be in Asia.

A Systematic Approach

china

A systematic and integrated air quality management (AQM) approach is necessary to protect human health and wellbeing as well as flora and fauna, ecosystems and material assets. A number of cities in Asia have adopted pollution control measures that have resulted in a continuous improvement in air quality. For example, seventy-four major Chinese cities have seen the annual average concentrations of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide decrease since 2014. However, studies have shown that some Asian cities are failing to respond quickly enough to the changing urban landscape and evolving air pollution problem. This is partly due to the scope and effectiveness of the measures taken and the absence of a comprehensive AQM system.

Taking Stock

The Clean Air Scored Card is one tool that is currently being piloted by Clean Air Asia to assist city authorities to take stock of their AQM approach and identify priority areas for action. The Score Card assesses four components: air quality measurement capacity; data assessment and availability; emissions inventory; and AQM management enabling capacity. It provides a quick snapshot on the overall status of AQM in a city ranging from underdeveloped, developing, emerging, maturing and fully developed.

On the Road to Cleaner Air

Once a city authority has identified a particular area for improvement it can then take appropriate action. The Guidance Framework for Better Air Quality in Asian Cities outlines a voluntary road map to improve urban air quality. Organized around six key areas of concern (Ambient air quality standards and monitoring, Emissions inventories and modelling, Health and other impacts, Air quality communication, Clean air action plans and Governance), the Guidance Framework aims to equip cities with the knowledge and direction needed to effectively reduce air pollution by mapping out the steps to be taken by national and local-level policy-makers.

A number of AQM training programmes such as the Clean Air for Smaller Cities programme are available in Asia. Together with on-line educational resources, such initiatives enable Asian local and government officials to further develop their capacity to address priority areas identified in the Scorecard Assessment and implement the steps outlined in the Guidance Framework road map.

Partnerships for Clean Air

As well as training programmes, much can be gained and learned through collaboration and sharing between cities and countries. Twinning promotes inter-city and region-wide sharing of information and experiences towards generating insights that will hopefully encourage implementation of the good practices of cities and countries. The Asian Development Bank’s Technical Assistance on “Mainstreaming Air Quality in Urban Development through South-South Twinning” aims to address challenges of AQM in Asian cities by promoting long term-planning and identifying strategies for South-South twinning to facilitate sharing and learning of good urban AQM practices in Asia.

While the best practice approaches to managing air quality may not always achieve the similar level of success when applied in a different context, they do give an insight into tackling a particular issue. This is especially the case when core elements are adapted for local circumstances.

Motivating Change

In order to motivate and reward cities to take action, a City Certification Programme is being developed to support progressive and sustainable advances in air quality. The Cities Clean Air Partnership’s city certification programme will enable cities to communicate the achievements that they have made towards better air quality management goals through a “seal of approval” (or eco-label). The programme offers international recognition for cities taking significant steps to improve the air quality. It is anticipated that there will be three levels of certification (Bronze, Silver and Gold).

The bronze level, targeted at the capacity building, will in 2016 be piloted in five cities before being opened to wider participation: Baguio, Iloilo and Santa Rosa in the Philippines, Malang in Indonesia, and Kathmandu in Nepal. Following this level, cities will be assessed based on the level of effort they make relative to their resources.

Maximising Air and Climate Co-Benefits

Cities are responsible for around 70 per cent of global GHGs: While carbon dioxide has warming influences on the climate in the long-term; short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, a primary component of particulate matter, methane and ozone have warming influences on the climate in the near-term.

slcps

 

Taking a co-benefits approach addresses air and climate pollutants and helps identify and implement win-win strategies that help meet the economic and social development needs of developing countries. Technologies and strategies targeting short-lived climate pollutants are able to reduce both near-term warming as well as air pollution levels. In Asia, the reduction of black emissions from diesel vehicles and biomass cook stoves, and reducing methane emissions from coal mining, oil and gas production and municipal waste are estimated to bring about significant air and climate benefits.

Measures to reduce emissions from transportation such as avoiding traffic congestion or public campaigns encouraging non-motorized transport (e.g. cycling and walking) can also provide additional wellbeing benefits such as increased physical activity.

No Excuses

Achieving better air quality in Asian cities requires local solutions that exploit the multiple benefits associated with quick actions to improve air quality while mitigating both short-lived climate pollutants and long-lived greenhouse gases. There are a number of initiatives, guidance and tools available to assist Asian cities authorities in this task. All that is required is the political will and organizational interest to adopt a comprehensive and integrated approach to managing air quality and achieving air and climate benefits.

Air Pollution – The Silent Killer

IR pollution is estimated to cause 600,000 premature deaths worldwide each year. It is a silent killer that is affecting the health, well-being and life chances of hundreds of men, women and children every day

AIR pollution is estimated to cause 600,000 premature deaths worldwide each year. It is a silent killer that is affecting the health, well-being and life chances of hundreds of men, women and children every day.

Poor air quality is a problem not confined solely to cities in the developing world. The majority of developed nations still have an urban air pollution problem.

In China and South Korea citizens are being ordered to stay in doors while authorities struggle to deal with the effects of dust storms – orange dust blown hundreds of miles from drought-struck northern China.

In the UK, a report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee claims that poor air quality in British cities is responsible for up to 50,000 premature deaths. On average poor air quality reduces the life expectancy of the average Briton by up to 7-8 months. Not only is air pollution affecting human health, it is causing significant damage to our natural environment.

The Environmental Audit Committee states that the UK government is not giving adequate priority to air quality. Britain is one of ten European Union (EU) member states that have recently been warned over excessive levels of health-damaging fine particles know as PM10, which can can stay int the lungs for days.

The UK together with Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden could face court action if it fails to meet a European directive limiting these harmful airborne particles.

In the report the Committee argues that the quantified costs of poor air quality used to inform policy are out-dated. Not sufficient account is given to known health effects, treatment costs and environmental damage. In addition, the costs do not take into account the EU fines incurred for failing to meet EU air quality standards.

Climate change has become the sexy air pollution issue that has grabbed the attention of government, media and the public. It is therefore not surprising that local air pollution to some extent has been downgraded and is now considered to be of a lower priority. Unlike climate change, which has long-term effects, urban air pollution tends to have more immediate impact on human health and the environment.

The air pollution we experience today in the majority of Britain’s large cities is a far cry from the very visible smog that London experienced in the times of Sherlock Holmes. The 1952 Great London Smog was a thick “peas souper” that reduced visibility and caused major disruption to the city. The London smog is estimated to have killed about 12,000 people.

Modern air pollution is invisible and is mainly fine particulate matter that is imperceptible to the human eye but deleterious to human health. Industry is responsible for 36 per cent of PM10 followed by road transport which is responsible for 18 per cent. The majority of industrial sources are far away from city centres. Therefore road transport contributes more to public exposure to PM10 in urban areas.

Awareness of air quality is a key challenge. The Environmental Audit Committee highlights that many government departments do not seem to fully understand how their policies might affect air quality, the health and environmental impact of poor air quality and associated economic costs.

The Committee’s report calls for local authorities to do more to tackle poor air quality. They recommend that local authorities be given more information to develop local air quality strategies.

Despite major advances and investment in cleaning the air, the silent killer of air pollution is still prevalent in many developed cities. Since about 61% of the world’s population now live in cities, we urgently need to improve the quality of the air we breath.

After all to breathe clean air is a basic human right that we should all respect.

© Gary Haq 2010
To comment click on the title.