The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is organizing a series of six virtual dialogues and one knowledge sharing workshop to identify opportunities to address air pollution in Asia and the Pacific. These dialogues will focus on strengthening regional cooperation and facilitate a broader exchange of innovative air pollution solutions and best practices, including policies, data and technologies, and capacity needs.
Clean air is among the public goods that will contribute to sustainable, resilient and inclusive recoveries. Yet air pollution, a transboundary environmental challenge that threatens all countries in Asia-Pacific, continues to increase and actions to date have been insufficient to protect the health of populations, food and water security, and the emerging economies across the region. Roughly 70 percent of the nearly seven million deaths due to air pollution globally occur in the region, which has recorded some of the highest air pollution levels.
The dialogue on East and North-East Asia is part of a sub-regional dialogue series. Dialogues will also be held for North and Central Asia, South-East Asia and South and South-West Asia, in coordination with the respective Sub-regional Offices and the United Nations Environment Programme. Moreover, two thematic dialogues are organized in all subregions, focusing on: 1) Data and Technologies for Air Pollution and 2) Health and Gender Implications.
Each sub-regional dialogue is structured to include two segments:
1) High-level dialogue for senior officials to be focused on regional cooperation, including through enhanced regional modalities. The summaries of high-level dialogues will inform further consultations and preparations for the 7th ESCAP Committee on Environment and Development in 2022 for its deliberation and action;
2) Technical segment for other senior government officials, experts from academia and think tanks, representatives from international organizations and other relevant stakeholders from the respective sub-region. The technical segment will focus on the sharing of technical solutions such as air quality monitoring and forecasting, establishment of a publicly accessible geoportal for spatial information that integrates satellite and aerial data with ground-based sensor networks, as well as on health and gender implications.
OBJECTIVES OF THE DIALOGUES
The overall objective of the sub-regional dialogues is to generate specific recommendations for the following:
- Strengthening regional cooperation, including regional modalities and harmonized air quality standards, based on the WHO air quality guidelines;
- Addressing knowledge needs/gaps and mechanisms (geo-portals, use of knowledge management hub, communities of practice);
- Enhancing the use of data and technologies to inform policies;
- Identifying most appropriate clean air solutions and means to accelerate implementation;
- Further building the capacity needs to ensure policy development/implementation.
The recommendations from the dialogues will be compiled in a policy brief that will be shared with member states to mainstream adoption of the solutions and provide the basis for more effective regional cooperation. The dialogues will facilitate peer-to-peer and regional level sharing of lessons learned and allow member states to share specific technical solutions with country stakeholders and to strengthen the air pollution data generated by governments and partner institutions. Further, the dialogues will strengthen the community of practice on air pollution which will provide momentum and support for regional cooperation and action.
The policy brief will serve as the foundation for a knowledge-sharing workshop/side event to be organized in conjunction with the 9th Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development and inform the preparatory processs for the 7th ESCAP Committee on Environment and Development.
AIR POLLUTION IN SOUTH-EAST ASIA
Air pollution in Southeast Asia varies widely. In rural areas, biomass burning is the most dominant source of air pollution followed by vehicle emission, whilst in urban areas, vehicle and industrial emissions are the most important sources of air pollution.
Chronic and severe annual haze events are a major issue in the region and are originated by wide-spread biomass burning activities, including forests and peatland burning. Haze and particulate air pollution comes mainly from peat swamp fires in Indonesia. For instance, significant smoke emissions from Sumatra and Kalimantan contribute to air quality problems in Singapore, coinciding with continued deforestation and the expansion of oil palm plantations.
ASEAN Member States signed the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) to tackle this transboundary issue, but AATHP has faced numerous issues that hinder effective enforcement. Several South-Asian countries are also part of EANET, an intergovernmental network established to address acid deposition and related air pollution issues and promoting cooperation. Major activities of the network are monitoring and reporting, data management, technical assistance, capacity building, research and public awareness.
Advancing understanding of the respective contributions of aerosols from fire (i.e. biomass burning) versus non-fire (i.e fossil fuel combustion, road and industrial dust, land use and land changes) activities on air quality has become an urgent task for developing effective air pollution mitigation policies in the region.
Moreover, given the given the transboundary nature of air pollution, effective actions can only be taken through regional co-operation and science-based policymaking grounded on innovative transboundary international environment law.