Regional Public Goods: A breath of fresh air

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Hold your breath for the bad news: air pollution imperils Asia and the Pacific. Rapid carbon-intensive growth puts the region in a precarious position, where 4 of the 10 biggest polluters and 5 of the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change reside together. The biggest polluters also happen to be the most productive in the region. Unabated pollution, a key driver of climate change and a major source of air pollutants, could curb regional GDP growth by as much as 3.3% by 2050 and 10% by 2100, based on ADB estimates.

Now, exhale for there’s good news: Asia can realize its economic and environmental promise of green growth through regional cooperation and regional public goods (RPG). RPGs refer to benefits shared by two or more countries in the region, in any of the following key areas: (i) the environment, communicable diseases, natural disasters, clean energy and energy efficiency, governance, and human and drug trafficking; (ii) research; (iii) capacity building and institutional strengthening; and (iv) regional partnership. The RPG initiative of Clean Air Asia (CAA) exemplifies this. Established in 2001 with help from the World Bank, ADB and USEAP, CAA leads air pollution reduction policies and programs on air quality and climate change (AQCC), clean fuels and vehicles (CFV), green freight and logistics (GFL), and low emissions urban development (LEUD), benefiting cities and households across Asia and the Pacific.

CAA taps countries to drive its four core programs, an example of how regional cooperation could be used to address climate change issues. AQCC builds capacity for air quality improvement through a guidance framework, knowledge management, and technical support, such as in Indonesia’s Breathe Easy Jakarta program that gives regular air quality updates to the public. In Singapore, CAA convened key public and private sectoral representatives to advance fuel-quality and vehicle emissions standards in the region as embodied by the CFV program. Viet Nam’s experience of the GFL program involved knowledge- and experience-sharing on online freight-exchange systems to identify key areas for the development of green freight programs. In the Philippines, CAA’s LEUD program enabled the provision of data-driven and evidence-based recommendations to formulate transport policies.

Significant progress has been made since 2015 and ongoing CAA efforts are set to make an impact in the coming years. CAA shares its vision and four core strategies by providing training to ensure that the public sector – especially at the grassroots level – has the capacity to work towards this shared goal. The AQCC organizes trainings and workshops with local governments to improve air quality management, monitoring, and assessment systems. The CFV and GFL programs reach out to the private sector to build valuable partnerships with governments to develop, for example, action plans to phase-out polluting vehicles and collaborating on technical research to implement clean truck technologies. Partnerships also exist in various locales. The LEUD program organized metropolitan bicycle-sharing projects across neighborhoods while technical research was conducted on a government level to formulate transport policies.

Regional cooperation for RPG initiatives will make the future look bright, clean and clear. As CAA has demonstrated, strategies that engage all societal stakeholders are effective and sustainable. With multilateral support, RPG initiatives embodied by CAA now have a great opportunity to cultivate long-lasting change along with the Paris Accord. Regional cooperation will be critical to achieving these ambitious goals, and we should be prepared to build on this shared progress at the grassroots, national, and international levels. With this momentum under way, can we breathe a sigh of relief now?



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J. Friedrich, M. Ge, & A. Pickens. 2017. This Interactive Chart Explains World’s Top 10 Emitters, and How They’ve Changed. World Resources Institute, Blog. Retrieved from http://www.wri.org/blog/2017/04/interactive-chart-explains-worlds-top-10-emitters-and-how-theyve-changed

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1 Regina Villasor is a research associate and Carlos Vincent Chua is a research consultant at the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department of the Asian Development Bank.
The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of ARIC, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), its Board of Directors, or the governments they represent. ARIC does not guarantee the accuracy of the information and data included in this blog post and accepts no responsibility for any consequences of their use. Terminology used may not necessarily be consistent with official ADB terms.