A year of challenges, but hopes high for 2021

2020 has been a difficult and challenging year for everyone. Our hearts go out to the millions of people grieving the loss of loved ones, to the many who have lost their livelihoods, and to all who are suffering the hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have all been affected, and we have all had to rapidly adjust to new ways of living, working and being. Economies throughout the world have plunged into recession, and global trade in the past months has all but ground to a halt, affecting manufacturers all the way down the supply chain and driving many to the brink.

But as we come to the end of this most taxing year, we can see glimmers of hope on the horizon. With much greater knowledge of the virus, medical interventions are now proving more effective, and vaccines will soon begin to be gradually rolled out across the world. The recovery may take some time, but we will recover. There is much to be hopeful about in 2021.

While the year has presented its own unique challenges for Clean Air Asia as an organization, we are privileged to have an amazing group of people working in our three offices in Manila, Beijing and Delhi. And we give our deepest thanks to each of them for their adaptability and flexibility, their commitment and dedication, and their tireless efforts to ensure that our work has not only continued without interruption, but has also continued to expand.

This expansion is critical. As life returns to varying degrees of a “new normal” throughout the world, the brief glimpses of clean air and blue skies seen in some of the worst polluted cities at the height of lockdowns are reverting back to familiar brown shrouds of toxic haze. As expected, the air quality gains that were made are proving to be fleeting. And worryingly, the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere continues to rise to potentially catastrophic levels, and at a rate never before seen in recorded history. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the last time the planet experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea levels were 10-20m higher than now.

In addition, a report released this month by the United Nations Environment Programme, found that nations were planning coal, oil and gas production increases of 2 percent a year – despite a needed fall of 6 percent a year until 2030 to keep global heating under the 1.5C target agreed in the Paris Agreement and avoid “severe climate disruption” – and G20 countries were giving 50 percent more coronavirus recovery funding to fossil fuels than to clean energy. Our own “Coal-Fired Power Plant Emission Standards in South and Southeast Asian Countries Policy Analysis”, released in November, found that coal power capacity will continue to increase in those regions, increasing air pollutant and CO2 emissions, if controls are not implemented. Indeed, the five countries of focus in the report – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Vietnam – together comprise 31 planned of global planned coal capacity expansion.

We cannot afford to take backward steps. Economic recovery cannot come at the expense of the environment, public health, and the planet. With our new organizational strategy, released in September, we are intensifying and accelerating our efforts across Asia to meet the challenges head-on and with urgency to ensure that we contribute to clean air, blue skies and a stabilized climate for people and the planet within this decade.

In 2021, we will continue to advocate for sustainable solutions and will help guide cities and countries on pathways to change. Our collective future is dependent on wise decisions being made now. We will continue to work to make that a reality and to ensure a safe future for all.

On behalf of all the Clean Air Asia team, we wish everyone a peaceful and restful end to the year and a safe and brighter 2021.

Bjarne Pedersen

Clean Air Asia Executive Director