With more than half the world’s population living in urban areas, achieving global climate change goals increasingly depends on city policymakers. As smog outlines most skylines and the effects of climate change grow, cities are realising that they must kill two problems with one stone.
Poor air quality and climate change are closely linked. Burning fossil fuels in industry and transport releases air pollutants and greenhouse gases. Reducing air pollution from these sources helps improve air quality and addresses climate change at the same time. Many cities have become more aware of the potential of integrated solutions to deliver clean air, a stable climate, and improved health while saving time and money. But awareness of these co-benefits has not always translated into actions capable of achieving them.
That is why Clean Air Asia, ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability East Asia) and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) have created a demand-driven training curriculum focusing climate change and air pollution for cities in different parts of Asia.
“Cities have huge potential to introduce policies to mitigate climate change, while at the same time, improving air quality and health,” said Eric Zusman, senior policy researcher at the Institute for Global Environmental Studies in Hayama, Japan. “These guidelines aim to train city authorities to strengthen synergies between climate and air quality policies.”
What is the city curriculum?
The aim of the city training curriculum is to familiarize urban policymakers with the knowledge and tools to strengthen the integration between fighting air pollution and halting global warming.
“There are many tools out there that cities do not know about,” said Xuan Xie, programme officer at ICLEI Asia. “This curriculum showcases some of them.”
Though the case studies provided come chiefly from Asia and the United States —California and New York— cities around the world will find it useful. At the most fundamental level, the integrated planning featured in the curriculum involves addressing air pollution and climate change through single rather than separate, planning processes. The end result of bringing these two processes together is “co-benefits.”
What are co-benefits?
Co-benefits refer to all the benefits generated by a policy that mitigates climate change while at the same time achieving other development priorities. These additional benefits can range from new jobs to improved technologies to controlling air pollution, and improving public health.
What have different cities done?
Tokyo, curbed emissions by initiated a “Say No to Diesel Vehicles” campaign in 1999. This was soon followed by the introduction of a low sulfur diesel fuels and mandates on the installation of diesel particulate filters for trucks, buses and other large diesel-powered vehicles across the Greater Tokyo Area in 2003. Diesel vehicles that did not meet emission standards were either restricted from entering that area or mandated to be equipped with reduction devices. To facilitate the implementation of these regulations for resource-constrained businesses, Tokyo also provided loans or subsidies for small and medium sized enterprises to purchase low-emission vehicles. This package of policies and measures led to significant improvements in air quality and a sharp reduction of suspended particulate matter in Tokyo.
While California, which is a state not a city, offers one of the most instructive examples of a subnational government working on air pollution at the same time as climate change. The agency leading the effort on air pollution and climate change is the California Air Resources Board. CARB was placed in charge of a Climate Action Team made up of 18 relevant agencies that were tasked with bringing down GHG emission to 1990 levels by 2020. The institutional structure helped to strengthen the integration of air pollution and climate concerns.
“The curriculum is a practical guidebook for cities,” said Xie. “Of course it’s necessary for cities to reduce their emission, but up until the now their was no resource to show them how.”