Of the seven million people around the world who die prematurely from air pollution every year, four million are in Asia. That is a sobering statistic.
Air pollution is also the main environmental cause of disease. Given the scale of its impact, it is a fitting and timely theme of the United Nations’ World Environment Day this year.
Governments in Asia have been trying to address this devastating challenge as their economies have grown exponentially over the last few decades, leading to increased urbanisation and rising energy demand.
China’s Air Pollution Action Plan, for example, set air quality targets for key cities over the last five years, and this has led to a reduction in harmful pollutants in three of its main industrial areas - the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, and the Pearl River and Yangtze deltas.
But overall, Asia’s air pollution has not improved. Next year, it could even get worse because the region’s economies are projected to be larger than the rest of the world combined.
Asia can mitigate this by speeding up its transition to renewables, complemented with natural gas, and curbing its reliance on coal, which emits harmful air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides.
It will be a massive task that will depend not only on policy-makers but also on businesses, environmental and city experts, as well as many individuals on the ground, working together.