Let me start by extending my appreciation and thanks to the Embassy of France and Japan for hosting this important side event on a topic of urgency in our region which is air pollution.
Our region as we all know is the contributor of more than 50 per cent of global C02 emission where 99 of the 100 most polluted cities are in Asia. According to the WHO, more than 90 per cent of the region’s population is exposed to levels of air pollution that has significant risks to their health and well-being.
The health effects of air pollution have been immense and air pollution's direct impacts on human health have been revealed through the rates of premature deaths, infant mortality, and mental health issues. Air pollution's indirect impact on human health is also reflected in lost work hours and decreased labor productivity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the issue even more urgent. We know from an increasing number of studies (Stanford, Harvard, Oxford), that long-term exposure to high levels of air pollution may contribute to increased vulnerabilities to COVID-19 or the impact can be more severe.
The challenge for us all is how to ensure that recoveries post COVID-19 will lead to an economy and society that is more resilient, inclusive and sustainable, and certainly cleaner in terms of air quality.
May I share several key areas where we can further strengthen our work and collaboration in this regard.
First is on innovative means to solution. In this regard, ESCAP is utilizing serval new means such as machine learning, remote sensing, satellite imagery, to provide cities with insight into the specific causes of air pollution that impact their citizens. This information will then, can be utilized by city leaders with the data they need to come up with the right solutions to their pollution challenges.
Second, we need to further regional cooperation. As all of us realize, air pollution is transboundary in nature. Whether from the various sources, agricultural residue, transport, industrial activity, or power plants, the pollutants can travel across jurisdiction, across boundaries and definitely across countries. Therefore, strengthen regional cooperation among countries is needed to address this problem.
Last one is to protect and restore ecosystems. Greening our cities, protecting and expanding natural areas and promoting nature-based solutions will all improve air quality.
In today’s session we will cover all these topics and much more. I look forward to hearing your views and deliberation as well as solutions.
Thank you very much.