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Air pollution

Habitat III will shape the future of cities. What will it mean for urban mobility?

Nancy Vandycke's picture
Photo credit: Rajarshi Mitra/Flickr

Next week, the international community will gather at Habitat III - the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development - to discuss important urban challenges as the world’s cities grow at an unprecedented rate.

Today, 54% of people live in cities and towns. Cities can be magnets for population growth and offer opportunities for jobs and social empowerment; but they can also be a source of congestion, exclusion and impoverishment. Which path of urban growth will prevail depends, in large part, on the quality and availability of mobility solutions. Transport is a structuring element of cities.

The reality of mobility in today’s cities is alarming— especially when measured against the four criteria that define sustainable mobility.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Global Anticorruption blog
International summits come and go, and all too often the promises made at these summits are quickly forgotten, lost in an online catacomb or otherwise hard to track. We at Transparency International are determined that the commitments made by government representatives at last May’s London Anticorruption Summit (648 total commitments by 41 of the 43 participating governments) must not slide into oblivion in this way. That’s why, as Matthew announced in a post earlier this month, we’ve gone through every single country statement and compiled all commitments into one central database, sortable by country, theme, and region. Our goal is for this database to be used by anticorruption advocates and activists to monitor what their countries have committed to, and whether and where they are making progress.
Wall Street Journal
The ubiquity of cellphones could allow a rapid expansion of financial services throughout the developing world, with major implications for growth and credit accessibility, a McKinsey & Co. report concludes. “With the technology that’s available today you could provide billions of people and millions of businesses opportunities that don’t exist to them today,” Susan Lund, co-author of the McKinsey Global Institute report on digital finance, said in an interview. The report found that with coordinated action by financial firms, telecommunications companies and developing-country governments, some 1.6 billion people could gain access to financial services by 2025, all without major new expenditures on physical infrastructure.

How Virgin Atlantic used behavior change communication to nudge pilots to use less fuel, reduce emissions

Roxanne Bauer's picture

The idea that there are untapped opportunities for improving the energy efficiency of individuals and homes is common.  Energy efficient windows, lightbulbs, and appliances are sold worldwide.  People are advised to “turn off the lights when you leave a room,” and schemes have been introduced to reduce energy consumption by tapping into social psychology. But what about large firms? Or entire industries? Companies, after all, want to minimize costs to save money, don’t they?  How about airlines, whose bottom lines are subject to the international price of fuel?
It seems rational, but the International Energy Agency does not mention the aviation sector in its Energy Efficiency Market Report, nor does Kinsey in their comprehensive catalog of potential energy efficiency measures. Most reports (that I could find) focus on regulation of commercial enterprises.  This is a shame. The environmental impact of aviation is clear: aircraft engines emit heat, noise, particulates, CO2, and other harmful gases that contribute to climate change. Despite more fuel-efficient and less polluting turbofan and turboprop engines for airplanes as well as innovations in air frames, engines, aerodynamics, and flight operations, the rapid growth of air travel in recent years has contributed to an increase in total aviation pollution. In part, this is because aviation emissions are not subject international regulation thus far and because the lack of global taxes on aviation fuel results in lower fares than one would see otherwise.
Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, the National Bureau of Economic Research just released a working paper that suggests airlines’ fuel consumption can be reduced if they “nudge” the pilots to use less fuel, using behavioral interventions.

Steak, fries and air pollution

Garo Batmanian's picture
 Guangqing Liu
Photo © : Guangqing Liu

While most people link air pollution only to burning fossil fuels, other activities such as agriculture and biomass burning also contribute to it. The complexity of air pollution can be explained by analyzing the composition of the PM2.5, one the most important air pollution indicators. 

Why is there no world day for the bicycle?

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Peter Golkin riding his bike to Arlington County Public Library“My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: riding a bike to the library.”- Peter Golkin
Luckily for Peter Golkin, he gets his two favourite things everyday, as he rides his bike to work at Arlington Public Library. Millions of others like him benefit from using the bike as a form of transport, improving their health, reducing pollution, and saving money for themselves and society in the process.
Despite these benefits, the benefit of the bike to society is not recognised in many countries, or internationally. As a first step, the bicycle deserves an official annual World Bicycle Day sanctioned by the United Nations.
The humble bicycle has played second fiddle to the car for far too long: research published last year showed that not only could cycling cut a tenth of transport emissions of carbon dioxide, but more people cycling would cumulatively save cities across the world $25 trillion from 2015 to 2050 by reducing the need for expensive roads and public transport. 

Figure 18 compares the total cost across all transportation modes in a 2015 High Shift Cycling (HSC) scenario, the current HSC scenario, and the business as usual (BAU) scenario. 

Delhi’s odd-even plan as a public policy experiment

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Traffic in DelhiLate last year, Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, announced a measure to tackle the severe air pollution crisis in the city. The proposal was to implement an odd-even plan for private cars on Delhi roads: cars with odd numbered registration plates would be allowed to ply on odd dates and those with even numbered registration plates allowed on the other days. There was an exemption list that included single women (or with children), public vehicles, medical emergencies, etc. This was to be piloted for a period of fifteen days, starting on 1st January 2016.

For a detailed account of how the city dealt with this rule, see here.  An excerpt:
During the odd-even period, the use of cars fells by 30 per cent while those car-pooling went up by a whopping 387.7 per cent, indicating the success of the government’s push towards that option. Delhiites using private auto-rickshaws went up by 156.3 per cent compared to the period before odd-even, while Metro use went up by 58.4 per cent.

On average, the respondents’ took 12 minutes less to commute from home to work during the odd-even period. Car and bus users reached their workplaces 13 and 14 minutes faster during the 15-day period

I will come to the outcomes of this pilot in just a moment. Outcomes aside, the Delhi government’s Odd-Even plan has yielded a rich bounty. It sets the template for citizen engagement with a public policy reform experiment: heightened awareness regarding the core issue, mass participation, intense public scrutiny, and a data-driven discourse. Let’s take these one-by-one.

Let's come clean about dirty cooking

Anita Marangoly George's picture
Photo by Rodney Rascona / Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves

Really – let’s.

It’s a fact: Indoor air pollution from cooking with solid fuels including wood, charcoal, coal, animal dung, and crop waste in open fires and traditional stoves is the fourth leading cause of death in the world, after heart and lung disease and respiratory infection.

Nearly 2.9 billion people, a majority of whom are women, still cook with dirty, smoke and soot-producing cookstoves and solid fuels. That’s more people using these dangerous appliances than the entire populations of India and China put together.

This has to change. And change is happening as I heard from the various discussions that took place in Accra, Ghana at the Clean Cooking Forum 2015 last week.  Hearing the Minister of Petroleum of Ghana and the Deputy Minister for Gender and Development, I realize that the ambition to provide clean cookstoves and cleaner fuels to the households who need it most is definitely there. But transforming ambition into reality is a challenge. This is true not just in Ghana but in many other parts of the world.    

I have been thinking a lot about this lately, especially as we come up on the climate change conference (COP21) in Paris, where world leaders will gather to reach a universal agreement on mitigating the effects of climate change. Adopting clean energy sources is key to reach that goal. To that end, the UN’s sustainable energy goal (SDG7) that aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all also aims for bringing clean cooking solutions to the 2.9 billion who do not have it today.

More than dust in Delhi

Mark Roberts's picture
smog in delhi
The smog over Delhi. Photo credit: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier / Creative Commons

Urbanization provides the countries of South Asia with the opportunity to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations. But to reap the benefits of urbanization, nations must address the challenges it poses. Growing urban populations put pressure on a city’s infrastructure; they increase the demand for basic services, land and housing, and they add stress to the environment.
Of all these congestion forces, one of the most serious for health and human welfare is ambient air pollution from vehicle emissions and the burning of fossil fuels by industry and households, according to the World Bank report, Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability.”
Particularly harmful are high concentrations of fine particulate matter, especially that of 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM2.5). They can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the likelihood of asthma, lung cancer, severe respiratory illness, and heart disease.
Data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2014 shows Delhi to have the most polluted air of any city in the world, with an annual mean concentration of PM2.5 of 152.6 μg/m3 . That is more than 15 times greater than the WHO’s guideline value and high enough to make Beijing’s air—known for its bad quality—look comparatively clean.

But Delhi is far from unique among South Asia’s cities.

Clean air as a poverty reduction priority

Ernesto Sanchez-Triana's picture
​Many parts of the development community have long embraced the following narrative: When nations are young and poor, they are willing to sacrifice natural resources—dirtying their water and their air—to promote economic growth and meet their population’s basic needs. Then, once these nations achieve a certain level of wealth, they become less concerned with accumulating material goods and more concerned with quality-of-life issues, and only at that point are they willing to spend money—or sacrifice growth—for benefits like clean air.

However, a recent resolution by the World Health Organization's (WHO) governing body shows that this narrative is beginning to change. 

Five reasons to act now to #endpollution

Paula Caballero's picture
Did you know that about 3.7 million people worldwide died in 2012 from diseases related to ambient air pollution? That is nearly the population of the city of Los Angeles expiring every year from preventable causes.

When you combine death-by-smog with deaths related to exposure to dirty indoor air, contaminated land and unsafe water, the grand total of deaths from all pollution sources climbs to almost 9 million deaths each year worldwide. That’s more than 1 in 7 deaths and makes pollution deadlier than malnutrition.
Photo via Shutterstock

This fact deserves to be better known, as there are ready solutions. Inaction is not an option.