Keynote speech by Ahmed M. Saeed, ADB Vice-President, Operations 2, at the G20 Indonesia Presidency – Science20 (S20) High Level Policy Webinar, 30 June 2022

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored to give the keynote speech at this Science20 High Level Policy Webinar on “Applying Science and Technology for Clean Air and Climate Co-benefits.”

I would like to begin by thanking the Indonesian Academy of Sciences, headed by Prof. Satryo Brodjonegoro, for organizing this webinar in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Clean Air Asia, a knowledge partner of ADB on air pollution and climate change mitigation across Asia.

We also have the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Zhang Shiqiu, Board Member of Clean Air Asia, who will deliver our special address.

In addition, we have a number of eminent moderators and panelists who will be sharing knowledge amongst Asian countries on actions to improve air quality and lower carbon emissions and will be discussing the importance of leveraging a robust data framework for developing sound clean air and low carbon policies and will also talk about the importance of scaling up clean technology through public-private collaborations.

Before we hear from Dr. Zhang, let me first take this opportunity to share my observations on applying science and technology for clean air and climate co-benefits, as countries in Asia and the Pacific focus on rebuilding their economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Climate change and air pollution

The Asia-Pacific region is home to countries that are most vulnerable globally to climate change, with over 60% of our population working in sectors most at-risk from climate change impacts. In addition, the region produces over 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Hence, whether the battle against climate change will be won or lost, will depend greatly on Asia’s climate actions, and it is Asia more than other regions in the world that would bear the consequences of this actions.

This region suffers from severe air pollution, which has resulted in significant negative health and economic impacts. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), four billion people—92% of those in Asia and the Pacific are exposed to air pollution levels that put their health in danger. The cost of health damage from fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution (both ambient and household air pollution) is equivalent to a number approaching 10% of GDP in East Asia and Pacific and exceeding 10% in South Asia.

The G20 under the Indonesian Presidency aims to develop concrete action plans so that we advance the cause of a green, inclusive, resilient, and a sustainable global economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic. For the countries of our region, rebuilding sustainable economies require science-based solutions to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, while also ensuring a just transition.

Co-benefits of clean air

While improving air quality results in multiple benefits to society, foremost of which is saving human life; protecting the health of women, children, and those with co-morbidities; generating green jobs; and promoting economic growth. I would also like to highlight climate change mitigation as a co-benefit to air pollution reduction as well as of course vice versa. Because of their interconnectedness, actions that address both climate change and air pollution could deliver significant co-benefits to help countries meet sustainable development goals.

To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, reducing carbon dioxide emissions alone will not be enough. Short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), such as methane, tropospheric ozone, and black carbon (a component of particulate matter) can cause warming of the climate as well, in some cases more severely than other better known greenhouse gases. As a consequence, actions to reduce these air pollutants are as important as actions to reduce more generally known greenhouse gases. UNEP estimates that action on SLCPs could lead to the avoidance of 2.4 million premature deaths annually and avoid crop losses of 52 million tonnes a year, in addition, addressing these dangerous gases could help curb climate change by as much as half a degree Celsius.

Recent improvements in air quality management

ADB’s experience in air quality management in the Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei region of the People’s Republic of China and in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, provide important insights, but in addition, they also indicate that effective policies reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be based on robust scientific data and on cutting edge technology solutions.

The recent improvement in air quality monitoring in several Asian cities, accessibility of air quality data, and availability of clean technology solutions for the control of major pollution sources provide an opportunity for improving air quality and reducing GHG emissions.

For example, microsensors or low-cost sensors and satellite data are technologies being used to generate the air quality data to guide policies and to inform the public of air pollution levels. An example is PAM Air, a low-cost sensor network run by a private company in Viet Nam. PAM Air provides more than 400 sensors across the country, these provide data for daily air pollution broadcasts.

Quezon City in the Philippines has partnered with C40 and Clean Air Asia to deploy low-cost sensors to monitor air pollution levels in marginalized and in vulnerable communities that were far from the existing monitor network. This approach prioritizes community exposure and guides local government interventions to improve public health as well as the urban environment.

ADB initiatives on promoting clean technology

In addition to improving the scientific evidence base for climate and clean air solutions, efforts need to be taken to rapidly scale up and deploy clean technologies in critical sectors, this includes power generation, transport, industries including micro, small and medium enterprises, and waste management. We must use this solution to enable national governments to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in support of the Paris Climate Agreement. Replacing coal-fired power plants with renewables and deploying electric vehicles are examples of technologies and interventions which reduce air pollution that result in high health benefits, and that help us reduce the overall level of carbon dioxide.

Together with the international community, ADB is putting in place several projects and initiatives to scale up implementation of clean technology solutions that help reduce air pollution and mitigate climate change in Asia. These include:

  1. The Energy Transition Mechanism which is aimed at accelerating the transition of fossil fuel-based energy to renewable energy generation in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam first as pilot countries.
  2. We are also financing the largest solar park 2200 MW in India and preparing a $500 million policy-based loan on Power Sector Reform in India.
  3. A third example is our work to develop the Asia Clean Blue Sky Program aimed at scaling up ADB’s investments to generate clean air and climate benefits.

Recommendations for the session

According to analysis by the International Energy Agency, the pledges and commitments that governments made at COP26, if they are to be met fully and on time, would be enough to keep global temperature rises at 1.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, still above the 1.5 degree target. What this means is that we must take more ambitious actions, we must move urgently, and we must move beyond the official commitments. Reducing air pollution needs to be an essential part of these urgent steps to save our planet.

At today’s panel session, I recommend that we discuss lessons learnt from successful implementation of clean air and low carbon policies and action plans. We should also confer on how international organizations such as multilateral development banks, including of course ADB, can support national governments in these efforts and bring solutions to address bottlenecks for scaling up clean technology in Asia. I wish you all a fruitful session.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be with you today virtually.