Cities work together for clean air at Seoul International Forum on Air Quality

Participants urged to integrate actions on climate and air pollutants to improve health, protect ecosystems and reduce the global threat from climate change.

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Seoul's City Hall hosted the 9th Seoul International Forum on Air Quality

Seoul’s Mayor, Park Won-soon, opened the Seoul International Forum on Air Quality calling for continued cooperation and urgent action to reduce air pollution in Asia.

Representatives of 35 cities in six Asian countries ― South Korea, China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam and Singapore – were in attendance. Notably, as many as 16 Chinese cities sent delegates to the forum.

In his keynote opening address Dr Ahn Byung-ok Co-head of South Korea’s Presidential Pan-National Joint Organization for Particle Pollution Control said air pollution and climate change are the two greatest challenges facing mankind today.

Approximately 7 million people dying prematurely from ambient air pollution every year and climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. We don’t have much time left to act, we are at the point of no return, Dr Ahn said.   

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Mayor Park Won-soon opens the Seoul International Forum on Air Quality

Dr Ahn noted that while the interaction of air pollution and climate change can at times be complicated their combined effects was far greater than their individual impacts.

“Many air pollutants and greenhouse gases have common sources,” Dr Ahn said. “Cities and countries can succeed in preventing the worst impacts from two of the most serious threats facing people today – air pollution and climate change – if they integrate actions to reduce both.”

Dr Ahn urged cities to analyse the sources of their air pollution and look for measures that create win-win solutions.

In her keynote speech, Isabelle Louis, Deputy Director of the United Nation’s Environment Programme’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, said the region is at the center of this public health crisis, with over 4 million people dying prematurely each year due to exposure from outdoor and household air pollution. Health impacts are largest amongst women, children, older people and the poor.

Ms. Louis said that cities are at the frontlines in the effort to improve air quality with more than half of Asia’s population living in cities by 2030, but efforts to reduce air pollution should not be limited city or national boundaries.

“Although most air pollution problems are caused by local or regional sources of emissions, air pollution does not stop at national borders. Transboundary flows of pollutants occur between closest neighbors, as well as between continents,” Ms. Louis said. “We have the solutions, and UN Environment is working to facilitate immediate and coordinated action to address air pollution and its impacts.”

Ms. Louis said that there were practical solutions to air pollution as outlined by a recent UN Environment report Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-based Solutions, and efforts by Beijing to improve its air quality.

In many of these solutions, Asia is leading the way. China has the highest number of electric cars, two wheelers, and buses in the world and many countries in South-East Asia are following suit.

India has also rolled out its National Clean Air Programme which includes developing city-specific action plans in all 102 cities that exceed national air quality safeguards.

In Jakarta, the roll-out of inspection and maintenance programmes helped reduce emissions of diesel soot by 30 per cent and fuel consumption by 5 per cent for its 13,000 city buses.

As part of its commitment to reduce air pollution, the island-state of Singapore moved towards Euro VI emission standards for petrol and diesel vehicles in 2017 and 2018 and announced tightened emission standards over a range of pollutants for new and existing industrial plants from 2015 and 2018 respectively.

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Isabelle Louis, Deputy Director of UN Environment's Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

“It is very encouraging to see cities use an evidence-based approach, and have clear policy objectives, strong political will, and local ownership that are advancing on solutions to improve air quality,” Ms. Louis said.

Ms. Louis also pointed to the link between air pollution and climate change and called on governments to do more to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.   

The Seoul International Forum on Air Quality provided a platform for cities to share their experiences and innovations across several different sectors including, transport and stationary sources and looked at how solutions like urban forests and increased civil engagement are helping reduce air pollution.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition, together with partners like C40ICLEI and the Global Urban Air Pollution Observatory (GUAPO) discussed how city networks are increasing political and citizen awareness and helping cities share policy and technical innovations.

From South Korea, 17 institutions, including the Presidential Pan-National Joint Organization for Particle Pollution Control, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, South Jeolla Province and South Gyeongsang Province, participated in the forum.

The forum was closed by Bo-young Hwang, Assistant Mayor, Climate and Environment, Seoul Metropolitan Government, who said he hoped the forum serves as a platform to increase the international cooperation between cities.

“We know the cause of pollution in cities, and we know the solutions, we have common challenges and common solutions. This global city network is becoming more important and critical for this work.” Mr. Hwang said. “Cities are not afraid of failing, In the process we are constantly learning. With cities at the forefront we can act quickly to reduce air pollution.”  

Seoul is an important partner in BreatheLife a global air pollution campaign led by the World Health Organization, UN Environment, Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the World Bank. 

You can download all presentations from the Forum here

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