Air pollution is the world’s largest environmental health risk, linked to more than 6 million deaths each year. Rapidly urbanizing regions in low- and middle-income countries are on the frontlines of this global health crisis. Despite air pollution worsening over the past decade, there has been little improvement or no sustained progress in the most polluted urban regions of the world.
Clean Air Catalyst is a new flagship program launched by The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and a global consortium of organizations, led by World Resources Institute (WRI) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to accelerate clean air solutions in low and middle income countries. Clean Air Catalyst will work with communities around the world to identify and raise awareness of local pollution sources, and build focused coalitions to deliver interventions that lead to sustained progress on cleaner, healthier air.
Through this new program, USAID will build capacity for tailored solutions that cut air pollution and improve human health in cities in developing countries. The primary sources of air pollution vary from city to city, but most cities in the developing world lack information on primary and secondary drivers of air pollution. Communities must first have a clear understanding of the main drivers of pollution in their region in order to develop effective pollution mitigation policies and strategies.
Clean Air Catalyst seeks to change this dynamic by making the causes of pollution more visible and personal by building a vivid, shared understanding of the pathway to clean air. Our scientists and epidemiologists work with local scientists, business and government leaders to resolve key uncertainties about what is causing air pollution. We engage with 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. 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 will start in three pilot cities: Indore, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Through these pilots, the project will create 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 shared understanding of the pollution sources that affect communities in each city.
- Sabotage of Harms (Root Cause Analysis): we expand the scope of air quality action beyond the “end of the tailpipe/top of the smokestack” regulatory solutions by identifying 3-5 activities that drive emissions in the most polluting sector(s) in each pilot region.
- Focused Coalition Building: we will select one high-impact intervention from the sabotage of harms assessment and build a coalition of public- and private-sector partners to reduce emissions from a key pollution source, including formation of new sustainable funding vehicles and governance mechanisms for coordination.
- Cross-Sectoral Global Consortium: our unique coalition of leading air quality, environment, public health, energy, governance, and communication experts will work to break down sectoral silos to deliver credible and comprehensive solutions.
AIR POLLUTION: WHY IT MATTERS
Around the world, 9 out of 10 people breathe unhealthy air, making air pollution the single largest environmental health risk globally. Air pollution results in 6.7 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. Air pollution causes and exacerbates heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections, and currently increases adverse health outcomes associated with COVID-19. Air pollution 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.
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 GLOBALY
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.
World Resources Institute
Environmental Defense Fund
Clean Air Toolbox for Cities
Climate and Clean Air Coalition
Budget: up to $20 million USD
Years: 2020 – 2025
In Jakarta, Indonesia, the project will be anchored by WRI Indonesia.
 GBD 2019 Diseases and Injuries Collaborators. Global burden of 369 diseases and injuries, 1990–2019: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. The Lancet. 17 October 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30925-9