Air quality: Pathways to solutions

Reports of world rankings of cities and countries in terms of air pollution provide us with some important insights into the state of air quality in parts of Asia, which in turn helps raise awareness about the levels of air pollution. Heightened awareness can increase public concern about the impacts of air pollution and build momentum for continued mitigation efforts.

And momentum for clean air is needed. More than 60,000 Filipinos die prematurely each year due to poor air quality, according to the latest Global Burden of Disease study (Health Effects Institute, 2019), establishing an urgent imperative for action for air quality improvement in the Philippines. It is necessary to review and update the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999, and there is still more to be improved in terms of expanding the government’s current monitoring network of 104 air quality monitoring stations.

We know that emissions from mobile sources, such as vehicles, comprise 65 percent of the emissions in the Philippines, and up to 88 percent in the National Capital Region based on the most recent official national data. Black carbon, which is the most toxic component of particulate matter (PM) and is currently not being monitored in the country, comprises as much as 75 percent of PM mass, according to the most recent available study (Kecorius et al, 2017). Robust, comprehensive data on the health impacts of air quality in the country still does not exist.

Nationally, stationary sources, such as power plants and other industries, have a lower share than mobile emissions, although this has increased throughout the years and is likely to rise with the continued growth of coal-fired powerplants, which also contribute the largest share of greenhouse gases. There are currently 24 existing on-the-grid coal-fired powerplants in the Philippines and an additional 25 in the pipeline, with projections that the country will become increasingly dependent on coal (Clean Air Asia, 2019).

But clean air is possible, and we continue to work with the national government and more than 20 sub-national and local governments across the country to address these escalating air pollution and related issues. We continue doing this with the support of our partners by strengthening governments’ capacity to manage air quality, supporting the design and implementation of stronger standards, building technical capacity, and raising awareness about the solutions that need to be implemented to clean the air and mitigate the climate crisis. We also bring solutions to cities across Philippines and the region, including developing, implementing and tracking Clean Air Action Plans that have clear objectives, roles, and accountability.

It is clear that urgent action needs to be taken in the face of the twin challenges of air pollution and the climate crisis. We all have a role to play in improving air quality, and collaboration among all stakeholders is essential. Success will come with science-based air quality management and the recognition that our strength lies in our shared vision, and our future in our shared responsibility.

Clean air for all is achievable. But we must act now.