Rapidly urbanizing regions in low- and middle-income countries are at the frontlines of a growing air pollution and climate crisis. Nine out of ten people breathe unhealthy air, causing nearly seven million premature deaths every year. Many of the fossil fuel, combustion, and other industrial and agricultural emissions that create air pollution are also warming the atmosphere, threatening even more livelihoods globally.

The Clean Air Catalyst, a flagship initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development, is a global partnership led by WRI and the Environmental Defense Fund. The project complements traditional efforts to strengthen air quality management capacity by focusing on solutions to two critical bottlenecks that hinder clean air action: the gap between recognition of a problem and awareness of the solution; and the fact that reducing emissions can be expensive, with unevenly distributed costs and benefits from action.

The Catalyst will tackle some of the most pressing issues in air quality: most cities lack the specialized technology and information needed to understand the sources of their air pollution. Visible or invisible emissions from near or far outside the city mix in the atmosphere to create unhealthy smog and dust. Weather, seasonal and geographic conditions, forest fires or human activities like waste burning may also contribute to poor air quality. Furthermore, uncertainty or disagreement on what and who is responsible for air pollution can stall progress. Even when sources are known, the underlying drivers of emissions may be deeply embedded in everyday economic, social and cultural realities that make addressing pollution difficult, or fall disproportionately on women, the poor and other vulnerable populations.

To overcome these barriers, Clean Air Catalyst is piloting a unique data-to-impact methodology to scale up clean air action in Indore, India,Jakarta, Indonesia, and Nairobi, Kenya. The approach focuses on:

  • Expanding source awareness (the shared understanding of pollution sources) by addressing key information gaps through improved air monitoring and science; and building trust in air pollution information among a diverse group of local stakeholders that includes scientists, health professionals, government representatives, journalists, businesses, environmental advocates, and those most impacted by pollution, especially women.
  • Identifying the most effective actions by evaluating ways to disrupt the root causes of specific emissions activities, including social, political and behavioral factors.
  • Building strategic coalitions that bring together public, private and community partners to focus on reducing emissions from key pollution sources.

By combining scientific analysis and community consultation, the Clean Air Catalyst focuses on locally tailored, cost-effective and sustainable air quality interventions that can help reduce air pollution and achieve health, climate and equity goals.

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