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Environment and Development

Air Pollution and Climate Change

The climate crisis is intricately tied to air quality.

By reducing air pollution and the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to it, we address the root drivers of climate change, protecting both the population and the planet from their negative impacts. This improved air quality, in turn, generates immense benefits for human health and our environment.

2018 World Air Quality Report reveals that the Asia-Pacific region has some of the most polluted cities globally, and 2.3 billion people in the region are exposed to air pollution several times the WHO guideline for safe air. The most damaging air pollutants are fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) and Ground-level Ozone. All cities in the region see the effects of air pollution resulting from industrial pollution, biomass burning, unclean energy, and transportation emissions.

Support is needed to develop and implement policies to mitigate air pollution in Member States to meet their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly SDG 3 – Good Health and Well Being and SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities. Furthermore, as air pollution is a transboundary issue, regional cooperation is needed to align efforts and maximize outcomes in this ongoing battle for clean air.

ESCAP is currently undertaking analytical and capacity development activities supported by the Republic of Korea to enable cities to make evidence-based decisions to reduce urban air pollution. These analytical efforts have utilized machine learning to demonstrate that the primary causes of air pollution vary significantly among urban centers, even in the same country and region.

Using data-science-based evidence, this program aims to enable policymakers in project cities to make planning decisions that effectively tackle air pollution for resilient and sustainable urbanization and economic development. EDD also intends to work with stakeholders in pilot cities to develop action plans to improve air quality situations locally and for all individuals living in the region.

The project is significant because air pollution is one of the biggest environmental threats responsible for seven million premature deaths each year. Exposure to air pollution can increase vulnerabilities to respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. 

Knowledge products and learning tools

The EDD is developing knowledge products and tools that support policymakers in Asia and the Pacific to address critical environmental issues in an integrated manner. Knowledge products underway will provide governments capacity-building resources to address concerns like the sources of air pollution – particularly PM2.5 and PM10, make connections between climate change and air pollution, planning for sustainable growth and recovery in the agricultural and transportation sectors and integrating a gendered perspective, with a focus on children, in policy approaches to air pollution.

These products will include policy briefs, baseline studies of project cities, eLearning courses and contributions to global knowledge products and events, like The International Day of Clean Air for blue skies.

Technical Support and capacity building

EDD provides technical support on developing integrated environmental policies, from design and stakeholder engagement to linkages with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and systemic approaches.

This technical support includes participating in the Asia Pacific Resource Panel (ARP).The ARP is envisioned to be a new body of experts that will advance ASEAN strategic cooperation towards sustainable management of natural resources, ensuring that no state is left behind. Their goals are to (1) provide independent, coherent, authoritative and policy-relevant scientific and evidence-based assessments and recommendations on the sustainable use of natural resources, and (2) contribute to advancing national action and regional cooperation on decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation.

Intergovernmental Processes and Regional Dialogues

EDD also plays a role in coordinating the works and projects in Asia and the Pacific by providing regional platforms to share best practices and lessons learned on critical issues related to mitigating air pollution.

This will include UNESCAP and UN Environment co-leading an Issue-Based Coalition (IBC) on Regional Air Pollution. The IBC will streamline and align the UN's response to challenges of climate change with a focus on air pollution in the Asia and the Pacific region. Together with supporting agencies like the WHO and UNICEF they will realize synergies among different UN entities, bringing the added value of the regional UNDS to assist Resident Coordinators and UN Country teams and serve as platforms to reach out to non-UN agencies.