Lee Schipper, a specialist on cities, transportation and pollution diving time between Stanford and Berkeley, is a frequent presence on Dot Earth and a source for me when pondering how the world heads toward nine billion mainly-urban humans with the fewest traffic jams and smog alerts. He sent the following note from a conference in Bangkok on cleaning the air in Asian cities. You may have seen the news on Asia’s growing brown clouds this week.
Postcard from Better Air Quality ‘08:
Much has been made of rising aspirations of the middle class in developing countries, with the implication that this must mean literally hundreds of millions of cars — and hundreds of millions of tonnes of oil use and resulting CO2 emissions. Unfortunately these aspirations continue to collide with reality in the congested and polluted cities all over Asia, compounded by the huge brown clouds of pollution hovering over many parts of Asia recently noted in The Times. The foul air, with people stuck in traffic, is costing thousands of unnecessary deaths every year. This is not a new problem, as I have noted elsewhere.
This week, leaders from all the major countries and cities have been gathering at a semi-annual event, Better Air Quality ‘08, organized by the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities, a group recently spun off from the Asian Development Bank.
There are four main goals:
• Liveable, walkable, safe cities as the examples of Singapore and Seoul in Asia show.
• Better technologies, not necessarily as expensive as many think, since Asians have not yet dug holes as Americans have with a very car-intensive world.
• Modest lifestyles, not the kinds Americans are used to but ones we’re beginning to adjust to as home ownership, water, food, energy and everything else is suddenly more expensive or risky than we thought.
• Good governance, with the usual panoply of taxes, regulations to make the first three outcomes happen. This was brought out by Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, who transformed that city and its bus system into the envy of the world.
Many informal, and in some cases, closed-door sessions here let public and private stakeholders work on real solutions. BAQ 08 is upbeat on local air pollution. In Hanoi, for example, a city with more motorcycles per capita than New York has cars per capita, measures are being taken to clean up the resulting pollution. China has developed fuel economy standards on new cars, and high-level representatives from other Asian governments attended a special workshop to discuss how their countries should approach this issue. Bus rapid transit around the world was featured as well.
But some of the messages from such conferences are depressing: Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and the success stories are still the exception.
Lee Schipper, Global Metropolitan Studies, Univ. of Calif., Berkeley, and Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency, Stanford University
Have you traveled or lived in Asia? If so, what do you see as signs of progress, or big trouble? Dr. Schipper did point out to me that at least one other element of the meeting was upbeat –- the music, provided at the opening reception by none other than Lee Schipper and the Mitigators. Let’s go to the videotape: