Key Takeaways

Air pollutants from various sources, interconnecting in complex ways1 with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, are exacerbating the global crises of poor health, climate change, nature loss, and food insecurity. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) can enter the respiratory system and is linked to a range of respiratory and cardiovascular problems. The main sources of PM2.5 include combustion of fossil fuels in vehicles, power stations, agriculture waste, industrial processes, burning of wood and fossil fuels at homes as well as wind-blown dust from construction and agriculture.2

Nitrogen oxide pollutants produced from combustion of fuels – also have had multiple adverse effects on health and agriculture, and on the natural ecosystems which provide an estimated 4.3 billion people in Asia and the Pacific with livelihoods and sustenance.3

Air quality management

With Asia and the Pacific being one of the regions with the poorest air quality, there is a growing momentum for effective air pollution mitigation through air quality management systems and action plans that integrate anti-pollution measures with actions to reduce GHG emissions. These action plans incorporate several proven solutions for addressing air pollution. These include policy measures and technical interventions in industrial processes, as well as the use of clean fuels and promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The 25 clean air measures identified by the United Nations Environment Program, including strengthening of emission standards for industries and vehicles, and preventing peat and forest fires, will likewise benefit climate mitigation efforts. They could reduce carbon dioxide emissions in 2030 by almost 20% relative to baseline projections and could decrease the expected warming by a third of a degree Celsius by 2050, in keeping with the Paris Agreement. Such measures will also aid the region in its efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and their linked targets.

Enhancing funding mechanisms for air quality management projects, including the use of fees and charges, fiscal mechanisms, and market mechanisms are considered critical, ensuring that investments in public transport or climate mitigation also deliver air quality benefits.

Photo: Asian Development Bank
A thin line of smog hovers above the ger district in Ulaanbaatar. During winter, when temperatures drop below -30 degrees Celcius, the air quality also drops to hazardous levels because of over-dependence on burning cheap raw coal for heating and cooking. There was a marked improvement in the air quality after the government implemented a ban on raw coal in Ulaanbaatar in May 2019. Photo: Ariel Javellana/ADB.

Investing in air quality

ADB is committed to supporting developing member countries (DMCs) to deliver long-term, sustainable improvements in air quality through technical assistance as well as a range of financial instruments including policy- and results-based loans.

Since 2014, ADB has invested approximately $2.5 billion to support air quality improvement in the People’s Republic of China and Mongolia. This includes programs in the Greater Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei region of the People’s Republic of China and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. The program in the PRC has helped strengthen the region’s framework for incremental policy and investment actions, including the reduction of coal consumption and strengthening of air quality monitoring and administration. The air quality improvement program in Ulaanbaatar has contributed to significant improvement in air quality in the city through the use of cleaner heating and cooking fuels in the ger district. This has raised awareness on the link between air pollution, health and household level actions and secured public support for measures to address AQM and health protection through governance, technology, and finance.

Following these projects and other initiatives in air quality management in Central and West Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, ADB will continue to enhance partnership and leverage the technical and financial resources of its partners, generate and share knowledge, explore innovative financing mechanisms, and build the capacity of DMCs and staff on the design and implementation of projects in AQM.

Recognizing the close interconnection between air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, strategic efforts are being made to enhance linkages and maximize air quality and health benefits of ADB’s climate change agenda.

Asia Clean Blue Skies Program

ADB plans to scale up air quality efforts as part of its ambition to finance $100 billion for the fight against climate change between 2019 to 2030.

ADB’s Asia Clean Blue Skies Program (ACBSP),4 draws on ADB’s experience in working closely with DMCs on AQM and serves as a platform for stimulating the generation of investment projects with air quality benefits, including GHG reduction.

Such investments focus on offering no-regret options that can boost economic development through improved energy-efficient technologies, transport systems, urban facilities, and through greater workforce productivity and enhanced societal wellbeing. The program, which started in 2022 and will continue until 2030, is also providing technical support on improving the tracking of air quality-positive projects in the bank’s portfolio and leveraging additional financing for projects.

In addition to ACBSP, funding for air quality interventions in energy, transport, industry, and agriculture are available through flagship programs and other financing mechanisms such as the Energy Transition Mechanism,5 ASEAN Green Catalytic Financing Facility,6 and the Innovative Finance Facility for Climate in Asia and the Pacific (IF-CAP).7 Capacity building of DMCs is an important part of ACBSP and includes supporting DMCs with establishing sound air quality policies, regulations and institutions and improving existing ones as well as strengthening enforcement.

  • Photo: Asian Development Bank

    Fossil fuels account for 75% of Asia's energy and the region accounts for more than half of global consumption.

  • Photo: Asian Development Bank

    The adverse impact of climate change requires an urgent just transition to clean energy.

Partnerships and transboundary cooperation

ADB’s decades of experience in fostering regional cooperation is particularly useful in air quality management projects that require transboundary approaches, and in disseminating knowledge related to AQM data systems and monitoring.

The sectors for these projects include energy, agriculture, transport, industry and urban development, among others, and entail working at regional, national, sub-national or city level, depending on unique country or local contexts.

ADB has a strong network of partners for AQM, including UN organizations, bilateral and multilateral financiers, philanthropies, academic institutes, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and private entities. As part of the ACBSP, ADB is tapping into the technical and financial opportunities offered by this network including knowledge sharing platforms.

One of many such platforms is the Better Air Quality (BAQ) conference led by Clean Air Asia, an international NGO established in 2001 through an ADB technical assistance and supported by the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development. This biennial conference, the largest gathering on air quality in Asia since 2002, converges efforts by diverse stakeholders – governments, scientists, fund managers and NGOs – to focus on AQM policies and measures. ADB is a regular partner and participant in this conference.

By raising awareness through such platforms on the role of air quality in improving human health, addressing climate change and nature loss, food insecurity and promoting economic growth and prosperity, it will significantly contribute to the well-being of millions of people worldwide, particularly women, children and vulnerable populations.

Further Reading