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.

Clean Air Catalyst: A Global Partnership Accelerating Clean Air Solutions

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.

Jakarta & Indore: Clean Air Catalyst Pilot Cities

The Clean Air Catalyst Approach

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.

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.

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.

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.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.

Partners

To support locally-led work on cleaner air, the Catalyst team has signed agreements with DKI Jakarta Governor, Indore Municipal Corporation; and Nairobi City County Government agreeing to cooperate on new monitoring sites, scientific studies, training and source awareness activities.

Budget: up to $20 million USD

Years: 2020-2025

For additional information, please contact:

Katherine Swanson

Environment Officer, USAID

kswanson@usaid.gov

Sarah Vogel

Vice President, Health, Environmental Defense Fund

svogel@edf.org

Jess Lewis

Senior Air Quality and Health Advisor, USAID

jeslewis@usaid.gov

Beth Elliott

Communications and Engagement Lead, World Resources Institute

beth.elliott@wri.org

Stephen Bland

Chief of Party, Clean Air Catalyst, World Resources Institute

Stephen.Bland@wri.org

Key Links

Key Resources

COP27 event info card

Clean Air Catalyst: A Multi-level Approach to Accelerating Action on Air Quality and Climate in Cities

A group of men stand in front of a building to participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony.

U.S. Agency for International Development, Clean Air Catalyst, and Indore Municipal Corporation Launch New Air Quality Monitoring Stations

A group of women in orange sari pose for the camera in front of a Clean Air Catalyst sign.

Salute to ASHAs for their crucial role in “Clean Air, Clean Indore” Campaign

Aerial image of a cityscape in Nairobi.

Project Update: Clean Air Catalyst Launches in Nairobi

For a full list of news, see the Clean Air Catalyst feed