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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

18 January 2022


Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, 

Welcome to this subregional dialogue on Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific

Air pollution is a shared challenge across the region.  While the sources of pollution vary, what is common is that the volumes of pollutants are staggering and continue to grow.

Each year passes, more lives are negatively affected, with significant health implications for the most vulnerable and considerable burdens on the region’s economies.  

ESCAP member States recognized this challenge when they adopted a resolution in 2019 to strengthen regional cooperation to tackle air pollution. 

And in September 2021, at the second International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, there was a clear call from member States to do more and accelerate clean air actions.

More action is critical, as more than 90 per cent of people in our region breathe air considered by the World Health Organization to be “unsafe” for human health. 

Air pollution increases the risk of diseases from asthma to lung cancer, and early indications suggest correlations between long-term exposure to air pollution and higher rates of COVID-19 infections.

Globally, air pollution is responsible for seven million premature deaths annually, with roughly 70 per cent of those deaths in our region.

A recent study by the University of Chicago found that there is an average loss of 2.2 years in life expectancy as a direct result of exposure to air pollution. 

However, in Asia and the Pacific, this loss was found to be significantly higher, with an average of 5 years lost and far worse in some cases. 

While air pollution impacts all life, the consequences fall disproportionately on the most disenfranchised populations, such as those who rely on unclean cooking fuels, those living near industrial zones, or small farmers who lack alternatives to open burning.

And health impacts are most critical in children and the elderly and pose a significant danger to women’s reproductive health.

Without a doubt, the most significant contributor to air pollution is the same as the most significant contributor to climate change, fossil fuels.  In particular, fossil fuels used for energy production contribute to air pollution, while other major sources throughout the region include biomass burning, vehicle emissions and industrial waste.

This means many different parties will need to be involved in reducing pollution levels, including the energy, agricultural, transportation, forestry, industrial and waste management sectors.

Countries must take the lead to adopt and enforce standardized regulations and policies to restrict the release of pollutants from these sectors.  Domestic policies and regulations are necessary to protect the human right to safe, breathable air.

But as air pollution knows no boundaries, it also presents an urgent regional challenge in search of regional solutions.  Sharing national experiences, including successful policies and innovative technologies, can foster cooperation, collective efforts and help raise the bar to realize even more aggressive national actions. 

We must leverage these experiences and cooperation to build more effective modalities addressing air pollution.

Thus, today's discussion-- and the entire subregional dialogue series-- will focus on identifying means to:

  • First, strengthen regional cooperation,
  • Second, to enhance the use of data and technologies,
  • Third, to accelerate the implementation of the most appropriate clean air solutions in subregions,
  • and finally, to identify capacity development needs to ensure effective policy implementation. 

We look forward to your views on these key elements in the context of your country and subregion. 

We know that innovations and best practices can be shared more broadly and that tools exist to bring the region’s air pollution problem under control.  Such best practices and solutions can provide a firm foundation for strengthened cooperation.

As you may know, ESCAP’s Committee on Environment and Development will meet at the ministerial level later this year.  These dialogues and the process going forward will help inform the committee’s deliberations.  We sincerely hope that member States will come together to find effective solutions to ensure clean air for blue skies across our region.  

We are pleased to partner in these efforts with UNEP, which has developed science-based clean air solutions for the Asia-Pacific region and serves as the global lead for the International Day of Clean Air for blue skies. 

I am confident that, working together, we can ensure that blue skies across our region are once again the norm and not the exception. 

I wish you all a successful dialogue and thank you for your attention. 

Thank you very much.

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