Low- and middle-income countries are at the frontlines of the growing air pollution and climate crisis. Poor air quality is the greatest environmental risk to human health–linked to millions of deaths each year–and rapidly urbanizing cities in Asia and Africa are experiencing the worst levels of pollution. Many of the same pollutants responsible for chronic diseases and mortality are also worsening climate change, which could push 130 million people into poverty by 2030 (World Bank). Yet very little progress has been made to equip cities with the information and solutions they need to tackle these immense challenges, particularly in a way that does not further exacerbate the impact on women, children, and low-income populations.
Clean Air Catalyst is a global partnership launched in 2020 by The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to find lasting solutions to air and climate pollution that also contribute to addressing its inequitable effects in the most polluted urban regions around the world. Led by World Resources Institute (WRI) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the flagship program complements traditional efforts to strengthen air quality management capacity by focusing on solutions to two critical bottlenecks: the gap between recognition of a pollution problem and awareness of the solution; and the fact that reducing emissions can be expensive, with unevenly distributed costs and benefits from clean air action.
Clean Air Catalyst seeks to change this dynamic by working with local partners to build tailored, data-driven solutions to their air pollution problems. Most cities lack information on the primary and secondary drivers of poor air quality. Our global partners pair with local scientists to resolve key uncertainties about what is causing air pollution by deploying air monitoring equipment and conducting state-of-the-art modeling and analysis. We engage with government partners and impacted communities to build trust in the results and raise awareness of what effective clean air action looks like. We delve into the root causes of these emissions to develop creative ways to manage pollution. And we convene and support local coalitions – working with policy, business and community collaborators – to initiate and sustain these interventions.
WHERE WE WORK
Clean Air Catalyst is currently working in three pilot cities: Indore, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Nairobi, Kenya. Through these pilots, the project is creating a practical, field-tested playbook for convening key stakeholders, identifying and building awareness of air quality priorities, and leveraging USAID missions’ strengths to deliver and sustain cleaner air. All outputs will be open source and we encourage other groups to use the data, join the partnership, or help build a global groundswell for effective clean air action.
The program has several new and innovative features:
- Source Awareness: we use participatory science, structured media engagement and assessment of public perceptions to build a clear, commonly held understanding of the specific pollution sources that impact communities within each city.
- Root Cause Analysis: we expand the scope of air quality action beyond regulatory measures to identify potential solutions that tackle emissions in the most polluting sectors by addressing the underlying social, political, and behavioral drivers of pollution.
- Focused Coalition Building: we will select one high-impact intervention from the root cause analysis and build a coalition of public- and private-sector partners to reduce emissions from a key pollution source, including the formation of new sustainable funding vehicles and governance mechanisms for coordination and empowering clean air champions.
AIR POLLUTION: WHY IT MATTERS
Around the world, 99 percent of people breathe unhealthy air, putting them at increased risk for heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, pneumonia and other illnesses (WHO, 2022). At nearly seven million premature mortalities each year, the death toll from air pollution is estimated to be greater than that of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined (The Lancet, 2019). Low-income communities and vulnerable populations bear a disproportionate burden from air pollution. Air pollution has been shown to increase adverse health outcomes associated with COVID-19 (Atsjournals.com, 2022). It also negatively impacts ecosystems, reduces agricultural productivity and alters the water cycle. Air quality impacts climate change and, conversely, climate change impacts air quality. Reducing air pollution can also have positive benefits for the climate. Globally, the air pollution crisis is expected to grow in severity – most acutely in rapidly urbanizing developing countries – and without action, the number of deaths from air pollution could increase by more than 50% by 2050 (Nature, 2015).
CLEAN AIR SOLUTIONS THAT WORK
Since polluting emissions are often intertwined with everyday activities, we need a combination of regulation, behavior change, and public and private investment in alternatives that allow households, businesses, and people to move, work, live, and thrive without producing excess pollution. Clean Air Catalyst will focus on identifying the root causes of emissions – and mobilizing the full suite of public, private, and community investments and policies to develop and sustain clean air options for development. While the critical sectors and interventions will vary across program sites, we anticipate drawing on the partnership’s expertise in advancing clean energy access, developing alternatives to burning crops, wood and solid waste, shifting freight and passenger traffic to lower-emitting options and cleaner vehicles.
PROVIDING SOLUTIONS ON THE GROUND – AND SCALING GLOBALLY
The initial phase of the program will focus on developing and codifying the methodologies to move quickly from data to impact in each pilot city. The experiences in the three pilots will inform an open-access playbook for building multi-sector coalitions, cost-effectively advancing source awareness, and creating targeted strategies for rapid, sustainable emissions reduction. The playbook can inform air quality management planning in other cities while building support within the global community for implementing clean air solutions.
We are uniquely positioned to accelerate clean air solutions. We represent a diverse coalition of actors united by common purpose who for the first time are working together to strategically address major barriers in a coordinated manner. Clean Air Catalyst is locally grounded with an extensive global network of health, air quality management, energy, and governance partners, and we will leverage our strengths, expertise, and existing local networks to engage key actors to deliver solutions in each city. USAID will also coordinate and leverage existing work with the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Megacities Partnership, and U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) Program. This work will also seek ways to support and advance USAID’s new Climate Strategy.
World Resources Institute
Environmental Defense Fund
Clean Air Toolbox for Cities
Climate and Clean Air Coalition
Local governments and organizations, including the Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC), Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS), and DLH
Budget: up to $20 million USD
Years: 2020 – 2025
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Katherine Swanson, Environment Officer, USAID, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethan McMahon, Chief of Party, Clean Air Catalyst, World Resources Institute, email@example.com
Sarah Vogel, Vice President, Health, Environmental Defense Fund, firstname.lastname@example.org