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Blog 29 November 2022

Are technical gaps jeopardising governments’ air quality management? 

Tom Grylls Scarlett Quinn-Savory
100 government officials and practitioners working across 119 countries share their biggest barriers to effective air pollution management.

Air quality management (AQM) is a regulatory authority’s activities to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of air pollution. Comprehensive and context-specific guidance is foundational to robust air quality management, which is complex and multi-faceted.  

What is air quality management (AQM)?

Air quality management (AQM) refers to a regulatory authority’s activities to manage air pollution, which ranges from policy planning and programme implementation to air quality monitoring and impact assessment. AQM practitioners are environmental officials that work within government departments or agencies at the national or municipal level, or WHO country office staff.

To support governments to better manage air pollution, a range of guidance (including tools, training materials and case studies) have been developed by local, national and international organisations, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). But practitioners struggle to access the resources they need to achieve lasting results for the millions suffering the impacts of air pollution every day.  

A new study by Global Health Visions, in partnership with UNEP and Clean Air Fund, surveyed 100 environmental officials, academics and other AQM practitioners working across 119 countries, primarily in low and middle income countries.

Which countries were surveyed?

Challenges, gaps and opportunities

Less than a third of the countries surveyed have successfully implemented monitoring networks or have AQM strategies. Practitioners cited insufficient funding for AQM programmes as their greatest challenge, followed by a lack of technical capacity and context-specific information, especially for those outside of North America and Europe. As the results below show, these challenges are even bigger barriers than a lack of political support or authority to implement programmes.

This technical gap is compounded by inadequate alignment between the agencies, institutions and partners providing AQM guidance. Individual agencies’ fragmented approach leads to unnecessary duplication of resources, and at times conflicting information. The cross-cutting nature of air pollution as a health, environmental and climate issue means that it often falls between the cracks.

Strengthening Air Quality Management Guidance: Achieving Scale and Impact reveals two critical areas in which guidance can be bolstered to better support AQM practitioners: 

1. Improving the delivery and accessibility of guidance 

Currently more than half of practitioners involved in this study used web-based searches to find guidance. While there are substantial resources online, the breadth and number available make finding the most relevant and trustworthy guidance time-consuming and tedious. These online resources need to be streamlined for easier navigation and accessibility. 

2. Enhancing and expanding guidance to address critical gaps

Practitioners need support to collect, access, and utilise high-quality, credible air quality data. This includes increased guidance on how to conduct impact assessments (i.e. efforts to quantify the health and other benefits of emission reductions) and source attribution analysis (i.e. analysing and quantifying the contributions of emission sources).  

Practitioners also need guidance that can be easily adapted to their local contexts, languages and capacities. Current AQM guidance is often based on or developed for high resource settings and high-income countries. This means guidance tends to be unusable in many low- and middle-income countries, where access to equipment, budgets and capacity levels can be starkly different.  

We need more alignment amongst global organizations providing guidance – better coordination amongst UN agencies, U.S. EPA, CCAC, WHO and WMO.

West Asia region focus group participant 

Collaboration to catalyse wider action 

Strengthening the development of delivery of AQM guidance is an opportunity to maximise the global response to air pollution. A formal mechanism for coordination would allow multiple organisations to collaboratively strengthen, accelerate and scale delivery and development of guidance. Guidance alone will not solve air pollution, but such a mechanism could also be leveraged to design and implement initiatives to drive concerted policy action.  

Fortunately, the AQM community does not have to start from scratch. We must take stock of and leverage current approaches. By using existing guidance, working groups and platforms can share learning, plan joint initiatives and investments, and identify opportunities for collaboration. We can optimise these existing efforts and support new opportunities to catalyse meaningful action.  

At Clean Air Fund, we are supporting the air quality movement to improve the coordination and delivery of AQM guidance across the globe. Read the report now.


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