Air pollution measures for Asia and the Pacific

Air pollution in the Asia Pacific region is a major health risk which also has damaging impacts on economic growth, the environment, and agricultural crop yields.

92% of Asia and the Pacific’s population – about 4 billion people – are exposed to levels of air pollution that pose a significant risk to their health. While existing laws and policies have made progress in reducing air pollution in the region, further action is needed to bring air quality to safe levels.

A new CCAC-supported report, Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-based solutions, presents the first-ever scientific assessment of air pollution across 23 countries in the region. Using world-leading scientific models, the report outlines 25 policy actions that could achieve safe air quality levels for 1 billion people by 2030 – with numerous benefits for public health, economic development and the climate.

Findings: Air pollution sources and impacts

Asia Pacific countries display some of the world's highest recorded levels of air pollution.  Over 2.3 billion people in the region are exposed to levels of air pollution several times the WHO guideline for safe air. In 2015, the majority of global deaths from ambient (outdoor) air pollution - 35% - occurred in East Asia and the Pacific. About 33% occurred in South Asia.

The most damaging air pollutants are fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which includes black carbon, and tropospheric ozone. Urban and heavily industrialised areas with high population densities have the highest levels of air pollution.

While the sources of these pollutants vary by country, they are linked to only a handful of activities. For black carbon the primary sources are diesel soot, road dust, brake and tyre wear, trash burning, barbecues and cookstoves, industrial activity and agricultural burning.

Ecosystems and food security

In addition to its impacts on human health and well-being, air pollution also threatens agricultural productivity and food security in the region, which is home to approximately 60% of the global total of undernourished people.

The study found that tropospheric ozone is responsible staple crop losses of approximately 5%-20% in maize, rice, soy, and wheat in the region. Black carbon also has an intense localised negative impact on plant productivity by limiting photosynthesis and increasing plant surface temperatures. 

Opportunities and benefits

The assessment also details how existing policies can reduce pollution - but are not enough to reach safe levels as per WHO guidelines as air pollution is set to increase under current trends. Continued economic growth and urbanisation will actually worsen air pollution unless governments take further action. 

Without existing policies, population-weighted exposure to harmful particulate matter would grow by more than 50% by 2030 based on projected economic growth of 80% over the same period.

If current policies aimed at limiting emissions are effectively enforced, air pollution in 2030 will remain at 2015 levels, leaving over 4 billion people exposed to health-damaging levels of air pollution.

25 Clean Air Measures

Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-Based Solutions uses the highest quality data available and state-of-the-art modelling to identify the most effective 25 measures to reduce air pollution.

The analysis takes the region’s considerable diversity into account and groups the selected measures into three categories:

  • Conventional emission controls focusing on emissions that lead to the formation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
  • Further (next-stage) air-quality measures for reducing emissions that lead to the formation of PM2.5 and are not yet major components of clean air policies in many parts of the region. 
  • Measures contributing to development priority goals with benefits for air quality.

Contextually appropriate interim targets for working towards the WHO's air quality guidelines have also been developed for the countries of the region depending on their current air pollution challenges. 

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The measures covered in Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-Based Solutions cover the following sectors:

  • Post-combustion controls: Introduce state-of-the-art end-of-pipe measures to reduce sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate emissions at power stations and in large-scale industry

  • Industrial process emissions standards: Introduce advanced emission standards in industries, e.g., iron and steel plants, cement factories, glass production, chemical industry, etc.

  • Brick kilns: Improve efficiency and introduce emissions standards

  • Energy efficiency standards for industry: Introduce ambitious energy efficiency standards for industry

  • Electric vehicles: Promote the use of electric vehicles
  • Improved public transport: Encourage a shift from private passenger vehicles to public transport

  • International shipping: Require low-sulphur fuels and control of particulate emissions

  • Emissions standards for road vehicles: Strengthen all emission standards; special focus on regulation of diesel light- and heavy-duty vehicles

  • Vehicle inspection and maintenance: Enforce mandatory checks and repairs for vehicles

  • Dust control: Suppress construction and road dust; increase green areas

  • Agriculture crop residues: Manage agricultural residues, including strict enforcement of bans on open burning
  • Livestock manure management: Introduce covered storage and efficient application of manures; encourage anaerobic digestion

  • Nitrogen fertilizer application: Establish efficient application; for urea also use urease inhibitors and/or substitute with, for example, ammonium nitrate

  • Rice paddies: Encourage intermittent aeration of continuously flooded paddies

  • Clean cooking and heating: Use clean fuels - electricity, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in cities, and LPG and advanced biomass cooking and heating stoves in rural areas; substituion of coal by briquettes
  • Energy efficiency for households: Use incentives to improve the energy efficiency of household appliances, buildings, lighting, heating and cooking; encourage rooftop solar installations

  • Prevention of forest and peatland fires: Improve forest, land and water management and fire prevention strategies
  • Renewables for power generation: Use incentives to foster extended use of wind, solar and hydro power for electricity generation and phase out the least efficient plants
  • Residential waste burning: Strictly enforce bans on open burning of household waste
  • Solid waste management: Encourage centralized waste collection with source separation and treatment, including gas utilisation

  • Wastewater treatment: Introduce well-managed two-stage treatment with biogas recovery

  • Oil and gas production: Encourage recovery of associated petroleum gas; stop routine flaring; improve leakage control
  • Solvent use and refineries: Introduce low-solvent paints for industrial and do-it-yourself applications; leak detection; inceneration and recovery
  • Coal mining: Encourage pre-mining recovery of coal mine gas
  • Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant replacement: Ensure full compliance with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol

Get the report