Why Do We Need Urban Air Quality Management?
On our planet, the air we breathe is one of the most important things around us. It is a vital natural resource on which all life depends. Clean air is something that we all need for good health and the well-being of humans, animals, and plants. Sadly, however, our atmosphere is being continuously polluted. Bad air quality affects human health as well as other environmental resources such as water, soil, and forests. Thus, air pollution also hampers development. Larger cities with highly concentrated industry, intensive transport networks and high population density are a major source of air pollution.
Many cities around the world, particularly in developing countries, are experiencing rapid growth. Yet, in the absence of adequate environmental policy and action, this growth is occurring at a considerable, and often increasing, economic and social cost. More people, more industry, and more motor vehicles cause ever-worsening air pollution which poses a serious environmental threat in many cities. The World Health Organization (WHO) and other international agencies have long identified urban air pollution as a critical public health problem. Many developing countries and emerging economies, for example China, Indonesia, and Mexico, have therefore included air pollution into their list of priority issues to be tackled.
The grave consequences of air pollution on public health are measured not only in terms of sickness and death, but also in terms of lost productivity and missed educational and other human development opportunities. Thus, degradation of air quality not only hinders economic growth by imposing significant additional operating costs on business, industry, households, and public services - it also means that the quality of life in these affected cities is spiralling downwards. Likewise, air pollution accelerates deterioration of buildings and historic monuments. A reputation for bad air pollution certainly deters investments from the outside. Air pollution puts a strain on sustainable urban development, which includes economic growth, social inclusion, human well-being, and the environment.
Aside from its severe local effects, urban air pollution also has profound regional and global impacts. Urban emissions are major contributors to the problems of ozone layer depletion and ground level ozone, global warming and climate change (through CO2 emissions). Urban air pollution also causes respiratory disease and property damage. Meeting these challenges at the global level requires that the air quality in cities be monitored and improved.
The technical aspects of urban air pollution are well understood while the necessary technologies for improving air quality are available on a larger scale. Compared to earlier times, today's citizens are generally better informed about the kind of air pollution they are exposed to and are increasingly unwilling to let the problem continue, let alone worsen. A growing political commitment to improve air quality can be observed in many cities. In order to convert these new attitudes into action, decision makers require a systematic approach to managing a city's air quality that also deals with the complex and difficult issues connected to the problem.
An effective environmental planning and management process
will help decision makers to formulate and implement realistic and effective
strategies and action plans to improve air quality. These strategies and
action plans have to systematically address the short and long-term causes
of urban air pollution and help the city to achieve a sustainable growth
pattern. The Environmental Planning and Management (EPM) process, developed
through the UNHABITAT/UNEP Sustainable Cities Programme (SCP), has proven
to be an adaptable and robust approach applicable to urban settlements
in developing countries and emerging economies. This urban air quality
handbook and toolkit is based on the principles of the EPM process and
has been adapted to fit the various needs and resources of urban politicians,
managers, and practitioners.