The 8th Northeast Asia Forum on Air Quality Improvement was successfully hosted in Seoul, South Korea on 4th and 5th of September, 2018. The Forum gathered over 300 atmosphere environmental specialists and participants, and was attended by officials of 25 East Asian local governments, including Beijing, Tokyo and Ulaanbaatar, and seven Southeast Asian cities to share their latest solutions and knowledge on air quality improvement.
“Air quality is a long-term threat to lives and a common challenge to countries and cities worldwide. Seoul works closely with nearby cities to ensure that citizens can breathe comfortably” said Taesoo Kim, Chairman of the Environment and Water Resources Committee of Seoul. Adding to this, Jechul Yoo, Deputy Minister of the Living Environment Policy Office, Ministry of Environment of Korea, considered the forum to be a platform for local governments in the region to come together and seek for solutions via cooperation.
Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the UN Environment delivered his congratulatory remarks to the forum through a video clip, stressing that “air quality is not a luxury, but a basic requirement for living. It is about health and human rights.”
While leverages such as clean energy, industry, housing, transportation and waste management could all contribute to air quality improvement, “the results would be limited if we work in each field separately.” said Rokho Kim, Coordinator of Health and Environment, WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific. “It would be more promising if we take multi-sectoral actions and work together to catch the silent killer -- air pollution.”
The forum was divided into 5 sessions of Vehicle Emissions Reduction Policies, Stationary Emissions Reduction Policies, Cooperation for Clean Air, Citizen participation for Clean Air, and Strengthening Monitoring to Better Inform Air Pollution Management, with specialists and representatives from local governments in the region invited share their experiences in relevant fields.
Experts and local government representatives from Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing and Hong Kong demonstrated policies, measures and actions that have been implemented on vehicle emissions reduction in their cities.
In reducing PM2.5 and PM10, Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul have all taken measures on diesel vehicles; nevertheless, as air pollution is a transboundary issue that cannot be tackled by one individual city or country, speakers from this session reached a consensus that collaboration beyond fault-finding between neighbouring countries and cities are needed for joint efforts on solutions. For instance, Tokyo has been working closely with the three neighbouring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa; whereas Seoul has been in collaboration with Incheon and Gyeonggi province.
Transportation demand management and remote roadside sensoring were highlighted in the session, with the former tackles the issue from a macro perspective through strategically reducing and/or redistributing travel demand, and the latter supports control and monitoring of in-use vehicles. In addition, the role of monitoring was stressed by local governments as high quality data serves as the foundation of better action plans and policies improvement.
In the field of stationary emissions reduction and control, a variety of actions and measures have been carried out by local governments in East Asia in response to the given geographical situation.
In Korea, the city of Seoul has focused on identifying probable emission sources of VOCs in controlling O3 and secondary organic aerosol (SOA); Gyeonggi province, on the other hand, is carrying out comprehensive measures for fine dust, as the province has been heavily affected by fine dust from the domestic area with a significant amount of coal-fired power plants. At the provincial level, they plan to reduce pollution from old diesel cars and promote electric vehicles.
Chinese local governments are tackling the issue from different perspectives. For instance, both Zhejiang province and Jinan city mentioned the importance of energy structure adjustment, and industrial structure optimization and upgrade; while Chongqing city highlighted scientific research capacity enhancement and publication of air quality data in addition to industrial pollution control.
Cooperation is needed and crucial for air quality improvement. Representatives from Incheon (Korea), Henan province, Hunan province (China), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Kitakyushu (Japan) shared their experiences on improving air quality through collaboration at different levels.
On this occasion, Shu Zhu, Regional Director of ICLEI East Asia, also presented the East Asia Clean Air Cities (EACAC) program which was launched in 2016 as a long-term multilateral collaboration for cities to gather information, and to bridge with private sectors, international organizations and research institutes for professional support on air quality improvement.
EACAC city Kitakyushu has years of experience in pursuing environmental improvement through international and intercity cooperation. “While international cooperation can provide a bigger picture on environmental protection, intercity cooperation allows local governments to look at specific challenges and develop actions that are closely related to the daily life of citizens.” said Michiya Hirayama, Assistant Manager of the International Environmental Economic Affairs Department, Kitakyushu.
“If you want to go fast, you can go alone; but if you want to go far, you have to go together.” Milag San Jose-Ballesteros, Regional Director for Southeast Asia and Oceania of C40,concluded the session by encouraging cities to consider joining existed programs and activities for intercity cooperation as a first move.
Citizens are active members of society, and they would not simply wait for the government to act for them. In tackling air pollution, it is important to make sure citizens understand the impacts of air pollution on human health, and what they can do. In this session, representatives from Seoul (Korea), Jakarta (Indonesia), Hainan (China), and Hanoi (Vietnam) shared the citizen participatory programs that were initiated in their cities for air quality improvement.
Eco-mileage is a voluntary civic participatory energy-saving program launched in Seoul as a response to energy crisis and climate change. It provides incentives to participants based on the usage of target energy compared to the same period of previous years, and returns saved energy as mileage which can be than redeemed. By 2017, 1.98 million members have joined program, contributing to 930,000 toe of energy saving and 1,937,000 tons of GHG reduction.
Ambitious City Promises* project cities of Jakarta and Hanoi also shared the initiatives and projects they have carried out for air quality improvement in their city. While the former has introduced a number of citizen participatory actions, including Car Free Day, bike-sharing, promotion on the use of public transportation, vehicle emissions tests, and trees planting; the latter has recently launched the Clean Air-Green City Project, aiming to establish a network among children, youth, communities, businesses and governments on air quality and associated health issues, and build capacity for its members to effectively take actions on the issue.
Speakers from different cities all highlighted the fact that while public education requires a longer timeframe, it is crucial for citizens not to forget that they are both victims and abusers of air pollution. “Citizens should be provided with correct information so they can become aware, yet not overly concerned about air pollution, and could change their behaviours for better environment” said Minsoo Kim from the Civilian Headquarters for the Solution of Particulate Matter Pollution, Korea.
Strengthening Monitoring to Better Inform Air Pollution Management
Environmental data collected through scientific analysis is the basis for identifying sources of pollution, developing policies and actions, and encouraging citizens and stakeholders’ participation. In tackling air pollution, local governments in East Asia have developed and employed various standards and monitoring system for different pollutants, aiming to come up with more strategic policies in response to given geographical situation.
“Evidence is key for reaching consensus.” said Sean Kahn, Programme Manager of Air Quality Monitoring of the UN Environment. “Reliable scientific analysis would allow us to encourage wider participation.” added Professor Yongpyo Kim of Ewha Womans University. While monitoring has allowed local governments to take preemptive actions as high level of pollution could usually be predicted 2-3 days beforehand, the misunderstanding and lack of participation from the citizen side has made such measures ineffective.
Another common challenge faced by local governments in collecting air quality data and standardizing measurement is that the level of capacity and financial resources varies between local governments. For instance, a capital city like Seoul would no doubt have more personnel and budget in installing monitoring stations and employing more comprehensive measurements.
However, the problem is even more severe at the global level. In filling up the information gap, the UN Environment has developed a monitoring kit, and has been exploring the application of low cost sensor technology for monitoring air quality, especially in countries where the cost and maintenance of reference grade instruments is prohibitive. Key working areas of the UN Environment at the moment include: capacity enhancement on sensor-based technology, network establishment on collective management and cloud-based performances, and visualization of data for better presentation of the result.
The two-day forum was concluded with a short speech of Boyoun Hwang, Assistant Mayor of Seoul. After appreciating local governments and international partners who have actively participated in the forum, Hwang highlighted that in addressing the global issue of air quality collaboration is needed, and that “cities cannot sit and wait for another few years until new technologies are developed.”
*The Ambitious City Promises Project is a implemented by ICLEI--Local Governments for Sustainability in close collaboration with Seoul Metropolitan Government, and funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. It supports 9 cities in Southeast Asia to establish strong local action plans through concrete targets, enhanced multi-stakeholder engagement and integrated strategies.