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Kathmandu Roadmap jumpstarts collective management of the HKH airshed

Mona Sharma

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The Kathmandu Roadmap identifies air pollution as a critical development challenge hinging on regional coordination between the four countries of the IGP-HF region. Designated country representatives agreed to seek their respective government’s approval of the proposed points for a regional agreement. (Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD)
Air pollution is a critical development challenge that demands rigorous application of air quality management (AQM) and planning to inform decision making across not just sectors but also geographic boundaries. Multi-country action on air pollution is critical for impactful action to improve air quality throughout the Indo-Gangetic Plains and Himalayan foothills (IGP-HF) airsheds.

ICIMOD and the World Bank brought together nominated government representatives from 24 institutions in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan on 14–15 December 2022 for a science–policy dialogue in Kathmandu to deliberate on the critical need to apply localised and region-specific air quality monitoring, management, and policy tools in tackling the escalating challenge of transboundary air pollution. The four airshed countries collectively highlighted national AQM challenges; presented national and regional opportunities; established commonalities with regional partner countries; and exchanged AQM-related knowledge. The country representatives discussed partnerships to strengthen monitoring, decision making, and abatement actions and explored financing opportunities.

What the Kathmandu Roadmap seeks to do
  1. Develop a framework for systematic and significant improvement in regional AQ in IGP-HF by 2030, in accordance with a country’s own national air quality standards and goals, taking into consideration a transboundary airshed management approach
  2. Share science based AQM experiences to design abatement options (e.g., through establishment of a regional analytical capacity for data analysis program for policy effectiveness and policy efficiency modeling), both at the national and subnational level.
  3. Hold regular coordination meetings to share AQM policy experience, monitoring efforts, implementation experiences and findings from inventory data and modelling results. Such coordination efforts help enable regional initiatives and policy harmonisation across the region.

(Presented verbatim)

The event culminated in the country representatives signing the Kathmandu Roadmap, which charts the way ahead for a regional response to air pollution in the HKH.

Participants first established scientific and technical inputs necessary for AQM policy making in the IGP-HF, presenting initial results and identifying capacity gaps for the development of a regional air quality policy tool. This led to high-level discussions on AQM policies in the IGP-HF. The World Bank also launched their flagship study Striving for clean air: Air pollution and public health in South Asia at the event. The science–policy dialogue strengthened awareness of common challenges and recent developments in air quality management in the four countries, which is expected to foster greater cooperation.

This event followed the 2021 high-level World Bank spring meeting on ‘Solutions for improved air quality and green recovery in South Asia’, where the four countries of the IGP-HF articulated ambitions for cleaner air in South Asia – or Vision 2030.


Air pollution in the IGP-HF

The IGP-HF – spanning Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan – has one of the most polluted airsheds in the world. Major regional sources of air pollutants include cooking, transport, power generation, industry, heating, garbage burning, agricultural practices, land clearance, and forest fires. The socioeconomic impact of this slow-motion disaster on the environment, human health, and society is immense. It is also the fifth leading risk factor for mortality in the world.

It is of paramount importance that we collectively understand the basics of air pollution, its data gaps, required actionable data, and methods to change people’s behaviour and perceptions. Given that air pollution from one country, or subnational area inside a country, may have a significant environmental and human impact elsewhere, there is a strong imperative to foster cross-country knowledge exchanges, particularly focusing on best practices and success stories. We need to advocate for successful mitigation measures and upscale them, support policy and practice measures, and improve South–South learning within the region. Countries need to coordinate their monitoring, planning, and abatement design efforts.

At ICIMOD, we aim to improve understanding of air pollutant emissions, atmospheric processes and change, and impacts and promote mitigation and policy solutions while building awareness, capacity, and collaboration in the HKH and upwind regions. Our new Strategy 2030 seeks to help align our Regional Member Countries to grasp new opportunities emerging in tackling the growing climate, biodiversity, energy, and water crises in the HKH. Tacking air pollution is one of four Long-Term Impact Areas to 2030 (continuing work done through our Regional Programme on Atmosphere), where we will respond to air quality challenges to reduce adverse health impacts while securing mitigation co-benefits.

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