With 600,000 people in Asia dying prematurely from air pollution each year, the continent’s major cities face a key challenge in reducing the daunting figure, according to a new United Nations-backed report: although vehicle emissions are being reduced, the volume of vehicles is rising rapidly.
The study, Urban Air Pollution in Asia Cities, released ahead of the first governmental meeting on urban air quality opening today in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, reports that while air quality has improved in some, pollution remains a threat to health and quality of life in others. Asia’s growth in population, urbanization, motorization and energy consumption remain major challenges.
One of its key findings is that concentrations of the fine particulate matter PM10, one of the main threats to health and life is, “serious” in Beijing, Dhaka, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Kathmandu, Kolkata, New Delhi, and Shanghai.
“There is as strong an association between fine particulate matter and health issues in Asia as there is in Europe and the United States, but in Asia the concentrations of particulates are much higher,” the study’s lead author Dieter Schwela said.
But the report, focusing on 22 cities, also finds that Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei and Tokyo have an “excellent” capacity to manage air quality. Beijing, Busan and New Delhi are rated as having “good” air quality management capability. All these cities have achieved major reductions in key emissions but still need to address fine particulate pollution from vehicle fumes.
Colombo, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Manila and Mumbai have “moderate” management capability. The report says these cities have reduced sulphur dioxide emissions but have the challenge of addressing transport-related emissions. Dhaka, Hanoi, Surabaya and Kathmandu have “limited” capability and need to improve air quality monitoring as well as achieve further reductions in emissions.
Mr. Schwela said many Asian cities can learn from Hong Kong and Tokyo, which are further along the road to achieving better air quality. The report is a collaborative effort led by the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia), together with the Korea Environment Institute and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
In a related development, the first Asia-Pacific Ministers Conference on Housing and Human Settlements opened in New Delhi today with a clarion call to reduce urban poverty and pollution. The four-day meeting, hosted by India with UN-HABITAT, the UN agency that seeks to achieve sustainable development of human settlements, drew ministers and representatives from more than 35 countries on its first day.
“You represent the world’s most populous region, the region with most of the world’s largest cities,” UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka said in a message read for her. “You represent a part of the world that is the global economic powerhouse of the future.
“You are gathered here to help devise a common new vision aimed at harnessing some of that great Asian know-how and economic power to ensure that our growing cities of the future will not only be better managed, but manageable – or what we in the United Nations call, sustainable,” she added.