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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.