Enhancing Climate Change Commitments to improve air quality and human health: Practical experience from the United Kingdom, and across Asia and the Pacific


In this Asia Pacific Climate Week side event, government representatives from the UK, Cambodia, Japan, Pakistan and Vietnam, as well as representatives from the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science, Stockholm Environment Institute, the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition provide lessons and insights in updating NDCs and related policies. The discussion will focus on three key questions:

  • Why was it important for their country to update their NDC to include action on SLCPs and air pollution benefits from climate change action?
  • Practically, what process was followed in the NDC update, how did this process work across relevant agencies and engage a broad range of stakeholders, and provide the basis for including SLCPs and air pollution benefits in the update NDC?
  • What are the next steps? Now that their country has clearly articulated objectives on SLCPs and air pollution benefits in their NDC, how can they be made a reality?

The aim of this session is to highlight practical ways in which air pollution, and SLCPs can be integrated into climate change plans; to engage other countries in the region, and more widely, to increase their ambition by considering local health benefits. The session also aims to provide insights into the next steps for how these benefits can be taken forward to implementation. Finally, the session will also highlight the latest research on the range of co-benefits from climate change mitigation that can be quantified and evaluated within climate change planning, including broader health benefits from diets, water and sanitation, and economic benefits.

Why this is important

In 2019, 6.6 million premature deaths were attributable to air pollution exposure. In 2020, in many locations, air quality improved due to lockdown measures intended to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as economies have restarted, air pollution levels rebounded. These rebounds underscore the need for actions that can sustainably reduce air pollution. Some of the most sustainable actions not only reduce air pollution and improve health but also mitigate climate change. In fact, studies estimated over 1 million premature deaths could be avoided annually if actions are taken globally to limit global temperature increases to ‘well below 2ºC’. In Asia-Pacific, the 2018 Air Pollution Solutions Report estimated that implementation of the top 25 ‘clean air’ actions could allow 1 billion people to breathe air below WHO air quality guidelines, while at the same time reducing global temperature increases by 0.3°C.

These health benefits are achieved from climate change mitigation actions for two reasons. First, air pollutants share many of the same sources as greenhouse gases, and therefore many actions that target major GHG emitting sources also reduce the co-emitted air pollutants. Second, a subset of pollutants, called Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs), including black carbon, and methane, directly contribute to air pollution and its health impacts, and to global temperature increases.

For these health benefits to be realised, however, they need to be prioritised and reflected in countries’ climate change commitments (Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs). In 2015, this rarely happened: only a few countries included SLCP mitigation, or air pollution benefits from climate change mitigation in their NDCs. But, as countries are now updating their NDCs, there is a notable change. The United Kingdom, who hold the incoming COP26 Presidency, submitted their first NDC, and specifically identified health and air pollution as key criteria in determined their decarbonisation pathway. In addition, several countries in Asia and the Pacific are taking practical steps to identify and prioritise those actions that can simultaneously reduce air pollution, improve health while mitigating climate change. In 2020, Bangladesh, and Mongolia, alongside other countries in Asia and the Pacific submitted updated NDCs, that increase their climate change mitigation ambition, and include targets, actions and activities that focus on achieving local air quality benefits and meeting international climate change commitments. 

Event resources