By: Hizbullah Arief and Matthew Perkins *
The upcoming Eighth Asia-Pacific Urban Forum (APUF-8) that will be held between 23-25 October 2023 will provide a platform for promoting inclusive, sustainable, resilient, and safe urban solutions and best practices by engaging stakeholders, constituencies, experts and the public.
This platform will strengthen regional cooperation and foster collaborative efforts toward sustainable urban development.
This timely event is happening when cities in Asia-Pacific are facing deteriorating environmental conditions. Nearly 90 per cent of the population of the Asia-Pacific region regularly breathe air considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be unsafe. Globally, more than 7 million premature deaths are attributed to air pollution, with two-thirds occurring in the Asia-Pacific region. Data from UN-Habitat shows that cities in the world consume 78% of the world’s energy that comes mainly from burning fossil fuels. This dirty practice produces not only smog, but also more than 60% of world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, the cities are becoming major contributors to climate change.
According to recent research from the University of Chicago, if the world achieved permanent reductions of fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) in line with the World Health Organization’s guidelines, the average person would add 2.3 years to their life expectancy — or a combined 17.8 billion life-years saved worldwide. Unfortunately, South Asia is home to four of the world’s most polluted countries and nearly 25% of the global population. In the region, PM2.5 pollution has increased 9.7 percent from 2013 to 2021. Estimates project that this reduces life expectancy in the region by an additional 6 months.
Most recently, in 2021, pollution continued to increase in South Asia, with sustained exposure to particulate pollution expected to reduce the life spans of South Asians by 5.1 years. The toll is even greater in the most polluted areas. For example, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan—where 22.9 percent of the global population lives—are the top four most polluted countries in the world.
“Three-quarters of air pollution’s impact on global life expectancy occurs in just six countries: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, Nigeria and Indonesia, where people lose one to more than six years off their lives because of the air they breathe,” says Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago.
Fortunately, throughout Asia, local leaders are taking action on air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Through Voluntary Local Reviews, and local efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, 67 VLRs from 61 different local governments have been published to date. These efforts illustrate the importance of local action and impact which cities can have on achieving our shared goals.
Climate Resilient and Inclusive Cities, a project under UCLG ASPAC is working with European and South Asian partners (Pilot4Dev, University of Gustav Eiffel, ACR+, ECOLISE and AIILSG), to assist pilot cities to mitigate and adapt to climate crisis. Together with partners such as with the Centre for Climate Risk and Opportunity Management in Southeast Asia Pacific –CCROM - SEAP), IPB University to train cities on climate mitigation and adaptation. The project is promoting triangular cooperation and developing tools and training materials to help solve cities’ climate related problems. The outcomes are local climate action plans that will guide cities mid-term and long-term development plannings.
At the regional level, governments are accelerating their efforts to cooperate toward the goals of clean air and a healthy environment. Member States of ESCAP have adopted, at the 7th session of the ESCAP Committee on Environment and Development, the Asia-Pacific Regional Action Programme on Air Pollution (RAPAP), which covers improving air quality management, facilitating air quality monitoring, sharing open data, exchanging best practice, supporting capacity building and mobilizing multilateral cooperation. In support of actions, the RAPAP underlines opportunities of strengthening and leveraging existing multilateral cooperation initiatives and their relevant scientific committees. The RAPAP also recommends formally involving national experts in scientific and technical activities including through a Technical Expert Group, and engaging major groups and other stakeholders.
Through a shared co-benefits approach at the local, national and regional levels, all stakeholders can work together to make real and lasting change to improve environmental conditions for cities across the region and secure the benefits of clean air for future generations.
* Hizbullah Arief is Regional Project Manager of Climate Resilient and Inclusive Cities (CRIC), United Cities Local Government Asia Pacific (UCLG ASPAC), and this article is jointly written alongside Matthew Perkins as Economic Affairs, UNESCAP, in line with the Eighth Asia-Pacific Urban Forum (APUF-8).