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Air pollution

All I need is the air that I breathe…

Anna Gueorguieva's picture

Also available in: 中文

Photo by Jens Schott Knudsen via Flickr CC

Recent research shows that air quality affects the productivity of high-skilled workers. What does this mean for developing cities?

City governments invest a lot in job creation—they plan infrastructure, skills initiatives, and industry support with the goal to improve productivity and generate jobs and growth, especially in the high-skill sectors. Yet, there might be an important input to productivity that cities can pay more attention to: clean air.

Recent research suggests that a 10-unit increase in the air quality index decreases productivity by 0.35%. Seems marginal? This “productivity slow-down” costs the high-skill economy of China $2.2 billion per year for each additional 10 units of the air quality index.

The research in question studied the effect of air pollution on worker productivity in call centers in Shanghai and Nantong in China. The firm analyzed is Ctrip, one of the largest travel agencies in the country, employing more than 30,000 people. 50% of the workers’ pay is based on performance and the measures of productivity are very detailed and high frequency. The study concluded that there is a robust relationship between daily air pollution levels and worker productivity. On average, a 10-unit increase in the Air Quality Index (AQI) led to a 0.35% decline in the number of calls handled by a worker in a day at an AQI of 100. If we translate this to the entire Chinese high-skill industries, a 10-unit reduction of air pollution levels would increase the monetized value of improved productivity by $2.2 billion per year.

Traffic jams, pollution, road crashes: Can technology end the woes of urban transport?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Photo: Noeltock/Flickr
Will technology be the savior of urban mobility?
 
Urbanization and rising incomes have been driving rapid motorization across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While cities are currently home to 50% of the global population, that proportion is expected to increase to 70% by 2050. At the same time, business-as-usual trends suggest we could see an additional 1 billon cars by 2050, most of which will have to squeeze into the already crowded streets of Indian, Chinese, and African cities.
 
If no action is taken, these cars threaten literally to choke tomorrow’s cities, bringing with them a host of negative consequences that would seriously undermine the overall benefits of urbanization: lowered productivity from constant congestion; local pollution and rising carbon emissions; road traffic deaths and injuries; rising inequity and social division.
 
However, after a century of relatively small incremental progress, disruptive changes in the world of automotive technology could have fundamental implications for sustainability.
 
What are these megatrends, and how can they reshape the future of urban mobility?

Access to quality information is crucial to tackle Peru’s environmental problems

Ernesto Sanchez-Triana's picture

 Franz Mahr / World BamkBy the early 2000s, Peru faced serious environmental problems. Air pollution in urban areas was so severe that it caused thousands of premature deaths every year. In fact, air quality in Lima was worse than in other large Latin American cities, such as Mexico City or Sao Paulo. Other environmental challenges that damaged people’s health included air pollution inside homes caused by the use of wood for cooking; insufficient access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; and exposure to lead, a highly toxic chemical. Together, these environmental problems caused 12 million cases of illnesses annually, dramatically affecting young children, the elderly, and poor people who couldn’t afford medical care. The World Bank estimated that these negative impacts had an economic cost equivalent to 2.8% of Peru’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2003.
 
One of the main reasons the Peruvian government wasn’t able to respond promptly to these serious environmental problems was the country didn’t have governmental organizations with a clear responsibility for environmental protection. Another important reason was the absence of a system of reliable environmental information to support the government’s decision-making process. For example, there was little awareness about the seriousness of air pollution, largely because most cities didn’t have a functional air quality monitoring network. Even in the few cities that did, the information was not widely disseminated. In the absence of such information, it was difficult to identify which environmental problems were most severe, and to develop actions and assign resources to solve them. In addition, lack of information limited the opportunities for the public—including the poor families and other vulnerable groups that suffered the most from pollution —to discuss their environmental concerns and agree on solutions with government officials.

#3 from 2016: Delhi’s odd-even plan as a public policy experiment

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on February 2, 2016.  

Late 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
 

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.


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