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13 Aug 2021 | Air pollution solutions

Key recommendations from the webinar on opportunities for addressing air pollution in South Asia

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Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD.

South Asia experiences some of the worst air quality in the world and is reported to host 37 of the 40 most polluted cities worldwide1. Home to over 1.85 billion people, South Asia is the world’s most populated region2, comprising middle and lower-middle income countries with broadly similar pollution sources that share a regional air-shed. South Asia also encompasses a critical and sensitive global asset – the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) – often referred to as the pulse of the planet, the third pole, or the water tower of Asia.

Climate change and air quality are often considered and dealt with separately by decision makers and in the wider public discourse. This has been shown to be a limiting approach as they are fundamentally interlinked with a number of common issues of concern. For example particulates and black carbon are linked to accelerated glacier and snow melt. This commonality demands collaborative, transnational and multi-sectoral mitigation efforts. It is clear that these shared problems require shared solutions.


Opportunities for addressing air pollution in South Asia

On July 29th, experts from the South Asia region met virtually for a webinar titled “Opportunities for Addressing Air Pollution in South Asia”. Organised by Climate Trends, a Delhi-based climate communications initiative, and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)3, the webinar focused on the challenges that air pollution poses for the developing economies of South Asia, with a focus on the greater Punjab. Speakers included Dr Pema Gyamtsho, Director General, ICIMOD; Daniel Greenbaum, President, Health Effects Institute; Glynda Bathan, Deputy Executive Director, Clean Air Asia; S N Tripathi, Head of the Civil Engineering Department at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur; Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Supreme Court lawyer and Chief Executive, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association; Maheswar Rupakheti, Research Group Leader at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany; and James J Schauer, Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Wisconsin.

Over 90% of the world’s population live in areas that exceed the thresholds and limits for key air pollutants set by the World Health Organisation. Unfortunately, for South Asia, this is approximately 100%.4 Mitigating air pollution has multiple benefits, including in the battle with climate change, improving the agricultural sector, as part of “good” economic growth, improving mental wellbeing, addressing gender inequality, protecting human, animal and environmental health and increasing resilience in the region. Air pollution has now captured the attention of the general public, policy makers and researchers, but it is a complex problem which requires coordination, cooperation and innovation from a range of stakeholders.


Key recommendations from the panel


Parallels between South Asian countries offer opportunities to collectively work on the problem by pooling resources including knowledge, observational capability (existing compliance systems as well as future low-cost technologies) and sharing lessons from global studies. These have the potential to bring down barriers to understanding and therefore action, about economic co-benefits and to bridge the gaps between economic growth, health and wellbeing, protecting the environment, sustainability, and development. Transnational and cross-agency cooperation and collaboration at the national, regional and local levels along with addressing in-country pollution sources in the context of the regional air-shed could be the key to effective action in South Asia.

1 World Air Quality Report 2020. Region and City PM2.5 Ranking. IQAir.

2 CIC NYU – South Asia

3 Atmosphere – ICIMOD

4 9 out of 10 people worldwide breathe polluted air, but more countries are taking action

5 BS VI standards will reduce heavy duty vehicular pollution

IIT Delhi’s study with solutions for emission controls lists BSVI fuel as one of the measures along with source apportionment analysis

6 A happy seeder is a tractor-operated machine developed by the PAU in collaboration with Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), for in-situ management of paddy stubble (straw)


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