Asia’s cities the drivers of change in reducing transport emissions

Clean Air Asia Environment Researcher Kathleen Dematera

Addressing transport-related air pollution requires a collaborative effort

With transport representing a significant source of Asia’s air pollution, sustainable-mobility and low-emission urban development strategies provide cities with opportunities to reap multiple economic, environmental and societal co-benefits from improved air quality.

“Transport is essential in maintaining economic growth and improving societal wellbeing throughout the region,” said Clean Air Asia Environment Researcher Kathleen Dematera, speaking on the “Reduction of Air Pollution through Transportation Solutions” at the 7th Northeast Asia Forum on Air Quality Improvement from June 1-2 in Seoul, South Korea. “The ownership and use of two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles is increasing; motor vehicle fleets are doubling every five to seven years; and cargo passing through Asian ports has more than tripled since 2000.”

“This is having a detrimental impact on the environment, human health and the economy. According to the United Nations, Asia’s motorized transport emissions are responsible for 23 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emission and are set to rise to 31 percent by 2030. If action isn’t taken, transport will become the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases, responsible for 46 percent of the share of global emissions by 2035. Traffic congestion alone is costing Asian economies an estimated 2-5 percent of GDP every year due to lost time and higher transport costs.”

Ms Dematera said the implementation of holistic and collaborative sustainable urban mobility plans was integral in addressing the root causes of transport-related urban air pollution, and would in turn result in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, lower rates of morbidity and premature mortality, improved public health, a lower cost burden from illnesses, less lost income, more jobs, greater productivity, better-connected and better-functioning infrastructure, more efficient public services, and less traffic congestion.

However, she said cities faced a number of common challenges in improving air quality, including financing options and arrangements, a lack of data collection and emissions inventories, a lack of technical capacity, a lack of pilot project funding sustainability, a limited reach and accompanying impact for pilot projects, and methodological shortfalls.

“Among the key things we have learned in our many engagements with cities is that they need air quality methodologies and an understanding of how to access the funds needed to purchase monitoring equipment.

“Despite the challenges, there is enormous potential among cities, particularly in the development and implementation of pilot projects, which build confidence and provide tangible local solutions that directly benefit constituents and are at a level that can be replicated and scaled up.”

Ms Dematera said there was also ample opportunity for improved collaboration among stakeholders – including national and local governments, the private sector, civil society organizations, NGOs, research institutions, and academia – which would strengthen cross-sector representation in transport and land-use planning, and increase engagement among city-builders.

“Addressing transport-related air pollution requires a collaborative effort. The more inclusive the process, the better the success.”