Air pollution is universally recognized as one of the most pressing environmental challenges Asia and the Pacific. And the crisis has only heightened in recent years, leading to a rise in premature deaths, threatening livelihoods and the sustainable development of the region, particularly in many cities where air pollution rises with the exponentially rising urban population. A 2019 report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-based solutions, claims that 2.3 billion people in the region are exposed to air pollution several times the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for safe air. The most damaging air pollutants are fine particulate matter (PM) and ground-level Ozone (O3). In 2015, the majority of global deaths, 35 per cent, were from ambient (outdoor) air pollution, occurred in East Asia and the Pacific, and another 33 per cent occurred in South Asia. If the current condition persists, this may threaten the region's economic growth, add to the mounting death toll air pollution already takes, threaten food security and potentially prompt regression away from international targets to combat climate change and increase equity.
In recent years, the region has become acutely aware of the anthropogenic activities that cause their dirty air and has begun taking action to mitigate the sources. These measures have made some improvement in air quality. However, policymakers in developing areas often lack the capacity to gather, utilize and employ data on air pollution to apply science-based measures that effectively ensure green growth and clean air for the ever-expanding people of Asia and the Pacific. Furthermore, there is a need for better urban planning that emphasizes environmental priorities such as clean and efficient energy, regulations on industry standards, low-carbon development, transport policies and sustainable transportation.
This Urban Air Pollution Project intends to help regional cities create Action Plans and that map out a future to ensure their citizens have access to clean air now and in the future.
The Project aims to have three major results:
- Enhance knowledge base on air pollution in the region: This includes a review of air pollution trends, existing policy approaches, and technology solutions, focusing on urban areas to facilitate city-level actions.
- Build capacity to mitigate air pollution at the city level: This includes the compilation of a methodology/manual to develop city-level, science-based, air-pollution mitigation policy plans.
- Enhance policies to mitigate air pollution at the city level: This includes the application of the manual/methodology in pilot cities and will result in draft air pollution Action Plans.
This Project focuses on reviewing the air pollution situation in Asia and the Pacific to develop a way forward to assist policymakers at the national and local level by providing opportunities to exchange experience and knowledge and enhance their awareness and capacity. The goal is to implement a science-based policy action plan at the city level to effectively tackle air pollution in urban areas.
The Project activities align with the mandates of ESCAP Resolution 75/4: Strengthening regional cooperation to tackle air pollution challenges in Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP/RES/75/4), adopted at the Seventy-fifth session in May 2019.
In addition, the Project bears in mind other relevant UN resolutions, including (i) World Health Assembly resolution 68/8 of 26 May 2015, Health and the environment: addressing the health impact of air pollution and (ii) resolution 3/8 of 6 December 2017 of the United Nations Environment Assembly on preventing and reducing air pollution to improve air quality globally.
Tackling air pollution is a crucial focus for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly the followings: 3.9 - substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination and 11.6 - reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management. The above SDGs have linkages to many other SDGs, such as 7 -affordable and clean energy, 13 - climate action, 6 - clean water and sanitation, 14 - life below water, 15 - life on land and 12 - responsible production and consumption. By reaching these targets, the region can also make significant headway in complying with other global pacts, like the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change enacted in 2015 that aims to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5, degrees Celsius.