fbpx Keynote Speech at the Better Air Quality Conference 2018 - Bambang Susantono | Asian Development Bank

Keynote Speech at the Better Air Quality Conference 2018 - Bambang Susantono

Speech | 14 November 2018

Keynote address by Bambang Susantono, ADB Vice President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development for Better Air Quality Conference 2018 on 14 November 2018, in Sarawak, Malaysia

Honorables, Distinguished conference participants, ladies and gentlemen. A very good morning to all of you.

It is an honor to be here on behalf of the Asian Development Bank, as a partner of Clean Air Asia in the 2018 Better Air Quality Conference. ADB was one of Clean Air Asia’s founding partners in 2001. Since that time, we have made significant joint efforts to share knowledge, promote policy actions, and mobilize investments in air quality management across the region.

Environment, economy, and equity

This morning, I’d like to start by inviting everyone to take a few moments to think about a simple question:

“What would you like your city to be like in 10 years?”

During the city visioning process of ADB’s GrEEEn Cities initiative in Southeast Asia, we asked this question to the residents of Vinh Yen, Viet Nam, an industrial city close to its capital, Ha Noi.1 Thanks to investments in manufacturing, Vinh Yen has enjoyed rapid economic growth in the last decade, which has added pressures on its natural environment. In asking this question, we asked Vinh Yen residents to share their vision as a foundation for an investment-based green city action plan. Here are some of their responses:


“Improved living quality.”

“Competitive economy.”

"In harmony with nature."

“Happy people and workers.”

“Modern social and technical infrastructure.”

I imagine their answers are similar to many of yours. For many of us living in Asian cities, this is a common theme. Many city plans need to consider and balance what I would refer to as the three “Es”: environment, economy, and equity. However, we have many challenges along the way!

Asia has experienced strong economic growth in the last fifty years, lifting millions out of poverty. With it, the region is seeing rapid industrialization and urbanization, which has been accompanied by rising pollution levels and natural resource degradation, with far-reaching socio-economic impacts.

Air quality is among the most pressing of these concerns. As has been said by the previous speaker, the World Health Organization warned us that air pollution is “the new tobacco,” harming us with every breath we take.2 According to a new study by UN Environment, ninety-two percent of Asia and the Pacific’s population are exposed to air pollution levels that pose a significant risk to their health. Furthermore, around 7 million people worldwide die prematurely each year from air pollution related diseases, with four million coming from Asia. The latest special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that we need to scale up the level of ambition to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and minimize climate change impacts on our ecosystems and communities.

This is an urgent priority for all of us. We cannot wait until after 2030. We have many of the solutions already. Actions to improve air quality, particularly those targeting short lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, are some of the most cost-effective measures that can be taken to address near-term climate change. In addition, they provide significant health benefits.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

So, how can we support cities to have clean air, while ensuring that we can sustain the environment, grow the economy, and ensure equity?

ADB recently launched Strategy 2030, which aims to respond to the changing needs of the Asia-Pacific region. Under our new strategy, ADB will sustain its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty, while expanding its vision of a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific.

Strategy 2030 has seven operational priorities, covering: (i) poverty and inequality; (ii) gender equality; (iii) climate change, environment, and disaster risk management; (iv) livable cities; (v) rural development and food security; (vi) governance; and (vii) regional cooperation and integration. Addressing air pollution in the region is one of its components. Solutions to improve air quality bring socio-economic benefits that can reduce poverty and inequality through green jobs and improved health and well-being. These solutions, such as cleaner cookstoves and heating technologies, will help women, who are disproportionately affected by household air pollution. Air quality management is also key to tackling climate change, enhancing environmental sustainability, and making cities more livable. Reducing emissions also strengthens food security through healthier crops and livestock. To effectively address air quality in the region, we must strengthen governance and institutional capacity and foster regional cooperation.

ADB' support for air quality management

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

In recent years, ADB has developed an integrated approach to air quality management covering a range of complementary, multi-sectoral investments.

Let me start with knowledge, which underpins all of our air quality improvement operations, through technical assistance, capacity development, and sharing of best practices. From our knowledge work, we have identified a range of options for mainstreaming air quality into urban development in the region, of which I would like to highlight three. In short, these emphasize the need for green policies and regulations, targeted investments backed by green financial mechanisms, and appropriate technologies. Let me explain more.

First, ADB supports its developing member countries to prepare and implement the right strategies, policies, and regulatory frameworks. Air pollution prevention and control, including enforcement of ambient air quality standards, must be integrated into sectoral policies, plans, and programs. We support preparing city-level clean air action plans to mainstream air quality concerns in urban development. A range of policy approaches can be piloted and implemented to manage air pollution, including support for low-carbon technologies, removing fossil fuel subsidies, and implementing other policy and market reforms.

Second, ADB supports developing and tailoring financial mechanisms to implement priority actions. An enabling policy framework and investment climate are critical to mobilize and effectively channel finance to investments to reduce air pollution. Governments can allocate public resources to finance air pollution control projects. But the public sector cannot do it alone. To fill financing gaps, public finance should also help attract and catalyze private sector investments in green markets, which are often viewed as risky.

Third, ADB supports enabling innovation and technology leapfrogging in key sectors. Policies and regulations may facilitate greater uptake of greener approaches and technologies, such as phasing out coal-fired heating boilers for cleaner alternatives. Economic incentives and financing mechanisms are also essential to drive innovation through research and development and promote green technology.

Approach to air quality improvement

To better illustrate ADB’s approach, let me share a few of our key projects supporting air quality improvement.

To start with, we can look to the Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei Air Quality Improvement Program in the People’s Republic of China.

Over the last decade, air quality in the Greater Beijing region has deteriorated, leading to serious public health risks and impacts to the economy. To address this, ADB has been working with the government through a multi-year, multi-sector programmatic approach, combining policy and institutional support, financing and investments, and technology and innovation as an integrated package. To date, the program has been developed through three main stages:

First, we began with an initial technical assistance and a $300 million policy-based loan in 2015 to support green policies and regulatory frameworks.3 ADB supported reforms in Hebei Province’s energy and socioeconomic policies, including policy actions to switch from coal to cleaner energy, promote transport in urban areas, and increase use of biomass for energy in rural areas. This helped the provincial government roll-out their Comprehensive Action Plan for Air Pollution Prevention and Control.

Second, we supported establishing green finance mechanisms by launching a Green Financing Platform in 2017, in partnership with the China National Investment and Guarantee Corporation. ADB is providing a $500 million loan, which is expected to leverage about $4 billion in domestic commercial financing to promote investments in air pollution reduction.4 The platform will help small and medium enterprises in the energy, transport and manufacturing sectors to have easier access to credit from commercial banks for green projects. This addresses a critical barrier that limits green investments.

Third, we followed up with another $500 million loan to help establish a Regional Emission Reduction and Pollution Control Facility, which aims to scale-up green projects implemented by large enterprises.5 The facility will catalyze private sector investment to transfer and deploy high-level technologies for major emitting industries. This includes preparation work for investment projects supporting hydrogen-based low-emission transport and geothermal-based district heating.

At this early stage, we are seeing encouraging results that show the benefits of green policies and investments over “business as usual.” For example, since the implementation of the Comprehensive Action Plan for Air Pollution Prevention and Control in 2013, particulate matter (PM2.5) in the Greater Beijing area has declined by around 40% in 2017.6 Furthermore, with these improvements in air quality, the estimated number of deaths attributable to ambient PM2.5 in Greater Beijing decreased by 10% -- from around 95,000 to 85,000 -- in the same period.7

Building on lessons from our work in China, we are applying a similar approach in Mongolia, beginning with a $130 million policy-based loan tailored to address both outdoor and indoor air quality in Ulaanbaatar.8 The project supports interventions across multiple sectors. Short-term measures cover preventive healthcare, including policy actions to increase pneumonia vaccination of children under the age of 5 years and installing insulation and air filtration in new and rehabilitated kindergartens, schools, and hospitals. Longer-term measures include effective policy reforms and regulations, integrated urban and energy systems, cleaner indoor energy sources and heating technologies, and air quality awareness and monitoring.

Likewise, in partnership with the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation program, we are supporting greenhouse gas inventories and investment road maps for low-carbon and green growth in selected cities. This will bring climate change, air quality, and health benefits through future investments.9

Investments in sustainable infrastructure

These programs complement ADB’s many investments in sustainable infrastructure. This has included a commitment of $25 billion in climate financing between 2011 and 2017. In line with our 2020 climate finance target of $3 billion in annual investments into clean energy, ADB approved just over $2 billion for 25 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in 2017. These include scaling up support for solar and wind, particularly in remote and vulnerable countries. We are also supporting smart grids and energy storage technologies to integrate renewable energy into power systems. ADB also has significant investments in sustainable transport, such as mass rapid transit systems and e-mobility. For example, ADB recently supported development of bus rapid transit systems in Peshawar and Karachi, Pakistan. These use modern technology to cut air emissions. These BRT corridors also offer safer, pedestrian-friendly, and more affordable transportation. These make commuting more accessible to women, children, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations. Finally, ADB upholds environmental and social safeguards in all its projects, ensuring that best practices are incorporated into project planning and design. For example, ADB is supporting the construction of a new gas power plant in Khulna, Bangladesh. With recommendations from an environment and health impact assessment conducted during project preparation, the power plant will be built with cleaner and more efficient power generation technology, reducing nitrogen dioxide emissions by 60%.10

Building on all these investments in sustainable infrastructure, as part of its new Strategy 2030, ADB has further committed to provide additional climate finance for $80 billion from 2019 to 2030.

I am pleased to announce that ADB has recently approved a new region-wide technical assistance to expand our air quality improvement operations.11 Our support will go towards developing city-level clean air action plans and stimulating further air quality investments in Bangladesh, Mongolia, Pakistan, Philippines, and Viet Nam. We will also continue to draw upon the experiences of other Asian countries to evaluate innovative and cost-effective technology and policy options for addressing air quality.

Among the cities included here is Vinh Yen, Viet Nam, where we earlier heard its citizens’ vision for a cleaner and greener city in 10 years’ time. Under the new technical assistance, we will work together to set the right green policies and enable green investments for cleaner air. Building on this, as part of a green city development project, ADB is supporting green and resilient urban infrastructure improvement in Vinh Yen, including new public green space. Together, these integrated actions will bring Vinh Yen’s residents’ vision closer to reality.

New collaborations and strategic partnerships welcome

In the spirit of this year’s BAQ theme, we welcome new collaborations and strategic partnerships to boost our impact in ADB’s newest initiative. Over the years, the BAQ Conference has been the venue for introducing new knowledge on best practices, launching new partnerships and platforms, and facilitating policy dialogues to create reforms.

Since this is the 10th BAQ Conference, this is a good time for us to evaluate the program and projects. How far we have facilitated the adoption of green policy reforms and prepare and implement integrated clean air action plans. How successful we are in attracting the private sector, who can help bridge the air quality investment gaps through green finance mobilization. And finally, what kind of incentives are available to stimulate green innovations.

The time for us to act together is now because every breath we take depends on it.

With this, I wish you all a productive conference.

Thank you.

1. ADB. 2018. Vinh Yen GrEEEn City Action Plan. Manila.  
2. Ghebreyesus, Tedros Adhanom. “Air pollution is the new tobacco. Time to tackle this epidemic.” The Guardian. 27 October 2017.
3. Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Air Quality Improvement-Hebei Policy Reforms Program (PRC). Approved on 10 December 2015 (now closed) for $300 million.
4. Air Quality Improvement in the Greater Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei Region—China National Investment and Guaranty Corporation’s Green Financing Platform Project (PRC). Approved on 12 December 2016 for $499.6 million.
5. Air Quality Improvement in the Greater Beijing–Tianjin–Hebei Region—Regional Emission-Reduction and Pollution-Control Facility (PRC). Approved on 14 December 2017, for $499 million.
6. 2018. Ministry of Ecology and Environment. 2017 Report on the State of the Environment in China. Beijing.
7. Huang, J. et al. 2018. Health impact of China's Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan: an analysis of national air quality monitoring and mortality data. The Lancet. 2 (7). E313-E323.
8. Ulaanbaatar Air Quality Improvement Program (MON). Approved on 23 March 2018, for $130 million.
9. Promoting Low-Carbon Development in Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program Cities (REG). Approved on 6 April 2017, for $2,848,000; Co-financed by People's Republic of China Poverty Reduction and Regional Cooperation Fund, Clean Energy Fund under the Clean Energy Financing Partnership Facility, Republic of Korea e-Asia and Knowledge Partnership Fund, and Governance Cooperation Fund
10. Bangladesh: Rupsha 800-Megawatt Combined Cycle Power Plant Project. Approved on 26 June 2018 for $801,500,000; Co-financed by Islamic Development Bank and Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR)
11. Strengthening Knowledge and Actions for Air Quality Improvement (REG). Approved on 5 October 2018 for $2,500,000; Co-financed by Urban Trust Fund (UCCRTF) and PRC Regional Cooperation Fund (PRCF).