Smoggy skies and dangerous levels of air pollution in Bangkok over the last week highlight the continual struggle cities in the Asia Pacific region face from deteriorating air quality due to continued economic growth, urbanization, and the growing demand for energy and transport.
Inefficient and unconnected public transport systems have driven more people to use cars and motorcycles daily, further worsening traffic jams, increasing fossil fuel use, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions in cities.
While many countries have moved to better quality fuels and vehicles, several still do not have policies and plans for adopting more progressive standards. A key issue for many countries wanting to improve fuel quality is getting the necessary funding to support refinery upgrades.
Many countries that subsidize fuel and have state-owned refineries are in a very difficult position to move towards the cleaner fuels necessary to improve air quality and enable the adoption of more advanced vehicle technologies. Bangkok, for example, saw substantial air pollution improvements in early 2010s when Thailand adopted Euro 4 vehicle emission standards and fuel quality. But over the last 9 years the country has not adopted, or announced a timeline for adopting, stricter vehicle emission standards. The sheer increase in the number of vehicles has outpaced the air quality gains in the city and is once again contributing to rising air pollution, particularly in the cooler months.
Going electric for public transportation, 2-3 wheelers, and cars is now seen by many countries and cities as a key strategy to mitigate air pollution and the rising costs of fossil fuel consumption.
UN Environment’s Asia-Pacific office organized a side-event on “Electrifying the Transport Sector to Beat Air Pollution” on 24 January 2019 at the Third forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia in Singapore to inform government representatives and other stakeholders of the state-of-the-art policies, plans, and opportunities for mainstreaming electric mobility in the region. Representatives from the Singapore Land Transport Authority, the Asian Development Bank, BYD (Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer), Grab (transportation network company), and Clean Air Asia joined UN Environment at the side-event.