The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is organizing a series of six virtual dialogues and one knowledge sharing workshop to identify opportunities to address air pollution in Asia and the Pacific. These dialogues will focus on strengthening regional cooperation and facilitate a broader exchange of innovative air pollution solutions and best practices, including policies, data and technologies, and capacity needs.
Clean air is among the public goods that will contribute to sustainable, resilient and inclusive recoveries. Yet air pollution, a transboundary environmental challenge that threatens all countries in Asia-Pacific, continues to increase and actions to date have been insufficient to protect the health of populations, food and water security, and the emerging economies across the region. Roughly 70 percent of the nearly seven million deaths due to air pollution globally occur in the region, which has recorded some of the highest air pollution levels.
The dialogue on South and South-West Asia is part of a sub-regional dialogue series. Dialogues will also be held for East and North-East Asia, South-East Asia and North and Central Asia, in coordination with the respective Sub-regional Offices and the United Nations Environment Programme. Moreover, two thematic dialogues are organized in all subregions, focusing on: 1) Data and Technologies for Air Pollution and 2) Health and Gender Implications.
Each sub-regional dialogue is structured to include two segments:
1) High-level dialogue for senior officials to be focused on regional cooperation, including through enhanced regional modalities. The summaries of high-level dialogues will inform further consultations and preparations for the 7th ESCAP Committee on Environment and Development in 2022 for its deliberation and action;
2) Technical segment for other senior government officials, experts from academia and think tanks, representatives from international organizations and other relevant stakeholders from the respective sub-region. The technical segment will focus on the sharing of technical solutions such as air quality monitoring and forecasting, establishment of a publicly accessible geoportal for spatial information that integrates satellite and aerial data with ground-based sensor networks, as well as on health and gender implications.
OBJECTIVES OF THE DIALOGUES
The overall objective of the sub-regional dialogues is to generate specific recommendations for the following:
- Strengthening regional cooperation, including regional modalities and harmonized air quality standards, based on the WHO air quality guidelines;
- Addressing knowledge needs/gaps and mechanisms (geo-portals, use of knowledge management hub, communities of practice);
- Enhancing the use of data and technologies to inform policies;
- Identifying most appropriate clean air solutions and means to accelerate implementation;
- Further building the capacity needs to ensure policy development/implementation.
The recommendations from the dialogues will be compiled in a policy brief that will be shared with member states to mainstream adoption of the solutions and provide the basis for more effective regional cooperation. The dialogues will facilitate peer-to-peer and regional level sharing of lessons learned and allow member states to share specific technical solutions with country stakeholders and to strengthen the air pollution data generated by governments and partner institutions. Further, the dialogues will strengthen the community of practice on air pollution which will provide momentum and support for regional cooperation and action.
The policy brief will serve as the foundation for a knowledge-sharing workshop/side event to be organized in conjunction with the 9th Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development and inform the preparatory processs for the 7th ESCAP Committee on Environment and Development.
AIR POLLUTION IN SOUTH AND SOUTH-WEST ASIA
Air pollution is a huge issue in South and Sout-West Asia with Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan ranking among the most polluted countries worldwide. One-fourth of deaths in the region are blamed on exposure to ambient air pollution (IQAir, 2021). Pollutants originates from industrial plants, vehicle exhaust, brick-making kilns, and crop stubble fires.
Some of the region’s worst air quality is in the ‘airshed’ bordered on its north side by the Himalayas. The low-lying Indo-Gangetic Plain sees an average annual level of PM2.5 in the proximity of New Delhi is 161 micrograms per cubic meter - four times India’s own air pollution standard (WB, 2021).
In South Asia, short-lived climate pollutants are posing a threat to the regional climate system. Methane and black carbon emission control measures in the region will have significant co-benefits for air quality and public health, with the potential to reverse the trend of increasing air pollution concentrations and mortality in South and South-West Asia.
The quality of air pollution data gathering and monitoring should be improved. Local, state, and national governments need pollution experts able to collect accurate air quality data, using the same data protocol and data standards across the region (WB, 2021). Formal coordination mechanisms have the potential to provide pathways to effective regulatory and scientific cooperation across jurisdictions and sectors, at all governamental levels.
A regional mechanisms that could help South Asia to map a cooperative approach was introduced in 1998: The Malé Declaration. The Declaration established an intergovernmental network with Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The network stuggled with the lack of a funding mechanism to prioritize and coordinate air pollution interventions. Hence, there is a need to explore how to move forward and redefine regional cooperation strategies for the present context.
 An airshed is defined as the entire area over which the pollutants disperse due to meteorological and geographical factors (CANSA, 2021).