Accelerating Urban Action On Clean Air – New Guidance For Policy Makers

With some 4.2 million deaths worldwide from outdoor air pollution, and many or most cities in low- and middle-income countries failing to meet World Health Organization air quality guidelines, it’s clear that reducing air pollution’s huge death toll needs rapid action by urban centers. But officials and administrators of fast-growing municipalities often lack the right tools for tackling air pollution.

A new guide, “Accelerating City Progress on Clean Air: Innovation and Action Guide,” aims to fill that gap – fast-tracking strategies and solutions. The guide was launched Wednesday at the World Sustainable Development Summit in New Delhi, by the Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Bloomberg Philanthropies and Vital Strategies.

The publication provides a step-by-step approach for city governments to take action on air quality beginning with effectively monitoring air quality, assessing emissions and sources; expanding data access and use; and engaging governments and partners to develop and implement action plans.

Smog over the city of Delhi

The launch of the report in Delhi was particularly significant, in light of the air pollution emergency experienced in the city last month, said Dr Sarath Guttikunda, a lead contributor to the guide and head of the Indian-based non-profit group,, a leading repository of air quality information in India and the region.

He was referring to the period when the city was covered with haze created by a combination of emissions from regional crop burning, industry, transport and waste-burning, which became trapped in the city due to seasonal weather conditions. At times, the city’s air pollution levels exceeded what monitoring equipment could record.

“Unless India urgently adopts long-term strategies to address air pollution effectively, we are doomed to repeat the associated health crisis of this past season year after year,” Guttikunda said. “This guide identifies recent data and resources that each city can use to address their challenges, both shared and unique, and make rapid progress. Poor air quality shouldn’t drive us indoors, depriving us of a full life of opportunity, productivity and health. This is a solvable problem, and I urge cities to use this guide to commit to action today.”

The guide is focused around four stages of activity deemed critical to identifying air pollution sources and addressing them. These include:

  • Monitoring air quality, including with the use innovative low-cost approaches;
  • Assessing emissions and leading sources – which typically include transport, power production, industry, waste and biomass burning – but may vary in priority from city to city;
  • Creating and using open data sources about air pollution emissions;
  • Catalyzing action by government and other stakeholders.

The guide draws on lessons learned from successful urban clean air initiatives including New York City, Beijing, Bangkok and Hong Kong. For example, interventions by New York City and the New York state government saw a 70% reduction in sulphur dioxide levels in just five years.

Best practices and progress from cities in early phases of developing air quality management plans, such as Battambang, Cambodia and Accra, Ghana are also highlighted. In addition, the guide addresses the roles of cities in regional, state and national policy and implementation.

Ambient PM2.5 concentrations (left) and mortality attributable to ambient PM2.5 (right) by region

“Cities, centers of creative governance, intellectual and civic life, are also home to growing civil society movements pressing for clean air and other environmental improvements,” said Daniel Kass, Senior Vice President for Environmental Health at Vital Strategies, which has a growing programme on air pollution and health. “The guide can help local governments respond to these demands with good science, logical planning and inclusive and transparent action. Each year, air pollution takes a huge public health toll and more children experience harm that can affect their future health and productivity. City governments can be powerful agents of change that speeds progress towards clean and healthy air for all.”

“Air pollution has constant, adverse repercussions on communities around the globe, and we must act now to mitigate its effects,” said Ailun Yang, head of global air pollution programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “By helping cities identify feasible, near-term solutions, this guide will empower governments to quickly build more sustainable, comprehensive clean air management plans at the local, national and regional level. Cities are hubs of innovation and ingenuity, and by making faster progress on clean air goals, they can lead the way in improving lives.”



Image Credits: Flickr/Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier, Accelerating City Progress on Clean Air: Innovation and Action Guide/Vital Strategies.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.