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

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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.

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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.

A Road Map For Better Air Quality in Asian Cities

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Air pollution is now considered the world’s largest environmental health risk.

A study of regional sources of outdoor particulate matter (PM2.5) in 51 countries found that globally 25% of urban outdoor particulate pollution is from traffic, 15% from industrial activities, 20% by domestic fuel burning, 22% from unspecified sources of human origin, and 18% from natural dust and salt.

In Asia, poor air quality is among the top five risks to human health in developing countries of the continent with more than 2.6 million premature deaths attributed to poor air quality pollution reported in the Western Pacific and South East Asian regions.

In an effort to address poor air quality, Clean Air Asia has launched a Guidance Framework for Better Air Quality in Asian Cities that provides a viable solution to the growing air pollution problems facing countries and cities throughout the region.

The Guidance Framework for Better Air Quality in Asian Cities helps policy-makers to improve air quality management. It also demonstrates the co-benefits of addressing air and climate pollutants and highlights win-win strategies which can contribute to meeting the economic and social needs of developing countries.

A voluntary road map to improve urban air quality, the Guidance Framework is organized around key areas of concern. It aims to equip countries and cities with the knowledge and direction needed to effectively reduce air pollution, mapping out the steps and actions to be taken by national and local-level policy-makers  to improve air quality across six guidance areas:

Guidance Area 1: Ambient air quality standards and monitoring
Guidance Area 1 outlines the need to establish/strengthen ambient air quality standards and sustainable national and local air quality monitoring systems to understand the status of air quality and air quality targets for public health and environment protection.

Guidance Area 2: Emissions inventories and modelling
Guidance Area 2 outlines the need to develop an accurate and reliable emissions inventory and apply dispersion modelling and source apportionment techniques to have a better understanding of air pollution sources and their characterization. This information can guide the development of clean air action plans and related environmental and developmental plans and policies.

Guidance Area 3: Health and other impacts
Guidance Area 3 outlines the need to improved understanding of impacts of air pollution informs clean air action plans development and helps engage stakeholders in this issue. Multi-stakeholder approaches contribute to effective co-management of air pollution as well as greenhouse gas emissions, leading to significant co-benefits with regards to public health.

Guidance Area 4: Air quality communication
Guidance Area 4 outlines the need for an effective communication strategy to inform, educate and strengthen stakeholder participation in all aspects of air quality management.

Guidance Area 5: Clean air action plans
Guidance Area 5 outlines the need to develop clean air action plans that include and/or legally strengthen air quality management in relevant policies and legislation, with the ultimate goal of improving air quality in regions and cities.

Guidance Area 6: Governance
Guidance Area 6 outlines the need for effective governance that aims to facilitate policy development and enforcement. Effective governance also educates and strengthens stakeholder participation in all aspects of air quality management to prevent and reduce  air pollution impacts.

The Guidance Framework also allows cities to be classified according to their air quality management capabilities (i.e. underdeveloped, developing, emerging, maturing, or fully developed). These development stages allow cities to assess their status and encourage them to attain the fully developed stage.

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While the Guidance Framework outlines voluntary actions  to achieve better air quality, its implementation will be dependent on overcoming common challenges faced in tackling air pollution in Asia. These range from a lack of government commitment and stakeholder participation, weaknesses in policies, standards and regulations, through to deficiencies in data on emissions, air quality and impacts on human health and the environment. The relatively low priority for air quality management means that funding is also often a problem.

Hopefully, the increased awareness of  air pollution issues together with the support provided by Clean Air Asia to implement the Guidance Framework as part of the Integrated Programme for Better Air Quality in Asia, will enable countries and cities to move along the road to better air quality.