With air pollution now a global environmental and health crisis, experts from around the world meet in Busan, South Korea recently in a joint meeting of two of the leading international air quality organisations to address the multiple challenges being faced around the globe and ways forward for countries and cities
Clean Air Asia’s 9th Better Air Quality Conference (BAQ) and the 17th International Union of Air Pollution Prevention and Environmental Protection Associations’ World Clean Air Congress (WCAC) brought together nearly 1000 representatives from governments, environmental ministries, the private sector, NGOs, research institutions, academia and civil society, including many of the world’s most prominent figures in their fields, at the landmark event themed “Clean Air for Cities: Perspectives and Solutions”.
The Conference, opened with a stark warning from World Health Organisation Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan that worldwide there is a long way to go in tackling the health effects of air pollution and the toll of premature mortality. Her warning was reinforced by new scientific assessments reported to the meeting, concluded that the toll of premature deaths from air pollution is set to rise through the coming decades before falling.
It is estimated 3 million people die prematurely each year from outdoor pollution and without action deaths will double by 2050. In six major Indian cities 30 – 50% of the air pollution is attributed to the transport sector. To avoid such negative impacts from motorized traffic, but also on road safety and public health issues, sustainable urban mobility must become one of the main occupations of cities.
A further report from the Health Effects Institute (HEI) newest study in China indicates that if no further action is taken, as the Chinese population continues to grow and age, the health impact of air pollution – in terms of deaths from cardiovascular and lung diseases – will potentially increase to 1.3 million deaths annually by 2030.
Saying this the study notes, with currently planned and potential additional actions to control air pollution from PM2.5, a key pollutant, levels in China are projected to substantially decline by 2030. Despite the adverse trend in premature mortality, if China continues to build on the positive actions it has already taken, 275,000 premature deaths could be avoided. These findings held not just for China but for much of Asia., as work suggests that the largest potential for deteriorating air quality is in India, while Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam are also high on the list of countries where premature mortality attributable to air pollution is growing rapidly.
The assessments both suggested that there was major potential from cost-effective measures that could be taken now to improve air quality. urging that while a continuing focus on traffic emissions was essential, other pollution sources, notably residential energy use, industrial emissions and agriculture, should receive more emphasis.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Carlos Dora from the World Health Organisation said: “China and other countries in Asia are now beginning to take vigorous action on air pollution, but these results highlight the scale and urgency of the challenge they face. Recent work by the World Health Organization indicates that in many cities air pollution is still getting worse, and almost as many people today rely upon polluting wood, biomass and coal fuels for cooking as they did a decade ago.”
A global response to the challenge is now being articulated, with the first World Health Assembly resolution on air pollution and health in 2015; a road map for its implementation in 2016; and air pollution featuring in four of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN last year. This opens important opportunities which now need to be carried through to national and local action. By making urban air quality a health and development priority, cities can improve air quality, reduce health costs from air pollution-related diseases and enhance worker’s productivity life expectancy and well-being.
During the conference the international NGO Clean Air Asia launched a English version of “China Air 2016– Air Pollution Prevention and Control Progress in Chinese Cities” with information about 161 Chinese cities’ implementation of the country’s declaration of war against air pollution – “Air Pollution Control and Prevention Action Plan”, which mapped out the nation’s air pollution prevention and control efforts until 2017.
The report showed the air quality of Chinese cities improved in 2015 compared with the previous year. The annual mean concentration of PM 2.5 , PM 10 , SO2 and NO2 was generally on the decline in 74 cities as compared with 2014, decreasing by 14.1%, 11.4%, 21.9% and 7.1% on average, respectively. But it is still common for Chinese cities to not meet standards, especially in the winter when heavy pollution was more frequent.
The report showed that, most of the cities which did not make desirable progress are located in Henan, Shandong and the north eastern part of China, which have less experience and weaker ability about air pollution prevention and control compared to developed regions. The report suggests the central government provide systematic and comprehensive capacity building to cities with weaker air quality management ability besides putting pressure on them.
Hopefully soon this bi-annual air quality conference will be hosted in China and China can build on the progress being across the whole of Asia.
Finally please find a link to my presentation as a key note speaker on Tackling the impact of diesel on European Cities.