Air pollution is a major problem around the world, and in Asia, it is particularly severe. Seven in 10 cities have unhealthy levels of pollution, causing illness and premature deaths.

Rapid urban growth is exacerbating the problem, with rising pollution from transport, industry and domestic fuel burning, among other sources. A lack of air quality monitoring, and ineffective planning and governance have also worsened the situation.

A new guidance framework from Clean Air Asia , co-authored by SEI York researchers, aims to give countries and cities the tools they need to tackle air pollution. Launched on 29 February in Manila, the Philippines, the Guidance Framework for Better Air Quality in Asian Cities focuses on six key areas: ambient air quality standards and monitoring; emissions inventories and modelling; health and other impacts; air quality communication; clean air plans; and governance.

“This is for us, and hopefully for cities across Asia, a significant and transformative event,” said Bjarne Pedersen, executive director of Clean Air Asia, at the event, which was attended by officials from several countries and from Metro Manila.

“There is now a profound understanding about the scale of the problem that we face,” Pedersen added. “And let’s not underestimate the scale of the problem, the challenge that we face in terms of worsening air quality – air pollution is seen as the largest environmental risk worldwide.”

The Guidance Framework, which is voluntary and non-binding, was developed in consultation with environment ministries, and air quality management stakeholders, and experts – including SEI Senior Researchers Dieter Schwela and Gary Haq. It demonstrates the co-benefits of addressing air and climate pollutants and highlights win-win strategies which can contribute to meeting the economic and social needs of developing countries.It is the cornerstone document of Clean Air Asia’s Integrated Programme for Better Air Quality in Asia.

“The launch of the Guidance Framework represents a huge collaborative effort under the auspices of Clean Air Asia,” said Haq, who co-lead the writing of the chapter on air quality communication and reviewed the full document. “Countries and cities across Asia can now take the necessary steps to safeguard the health of their citizens.”

The framework allows cities to be classified according to their air quality management capabilities (i.e. underdeveloped, developing, emerging, maturing, or fully developed). These development stages allow cities to assess their status and encourage them to attain the fully developed stage.

In 2006, SEI undertook an assessment of the status of air quality management in 20 Asian cities. It found some progress was being made, but the majority of the cities examined still exceeded international guidelines for the protection of human health for certain pollutants.

“While air quality has improved in some Asian cities, pollution remains a threat to health and quality of life in others,” said Schwela, lead author of the chapter on health. “However, more work needs to be done to address specific pollutants such as fine particulate matter which poses a real threat to human health.”

“While the Guidance Framework outlines voluntary actions to achieve better air quality, its implementation will require overcoming common challenges faced in tackling air pollution in Asia,” said Schwela. “These range from a lack of government commitment and stakeholder participation, weaknesses in policies, standards and regulations, through to deficiencies in data on emissions, air quality and impacts on human health and the environment. The relatively low priority for air quality management means that funding is also often a problem.”

Clean Air Asia’s Integrated Programme for Better Air Quality will provide support in implementing the Guidance Framework and in assessing cities’ air quality and plans of action.

“We are committed to providing actionable guidance to assist countries and cities across the region in improving air quality management and, ultimately, protecting public health and the environment,” Pedersen said. “The next stage is training on the implementation of the Guidance Framework, as well as training in other issues such as governance and scientifically based decision-making, co-benefits, application of the air quality management status, and developing a plan to improve management capacity.

Read the Clean Air Asia announcement »

Read the Guidance Framework  »