Ten years ago, the first Better Air Quality (BAQ) conference brought policy makers, experts, and advocates to Hong Kong to review the status of air quality in Asia and to recommend how to improve it. Today we are here once again to kick off the seventh BAQ in ten years, organized by the Clean Air Asia (formerly Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities), Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The theme of BAQ 2012 is “Growing Cities, Healthy Cities,”
Since the first meeting, we can say with certainty that the average air quality in Asian cities have improved despite their economic growth. The yearly average PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns) concentration for cities in the about 20 Asian countries engaged in the Clean Air Initiative for Asia was above 80 µg/m3 (microgram per m3) in year 2000. Now it is around 50 µg/m3. Although there are huge differences in air quality between countries and cities within the Asia region, the overall trend over the last decade is that most of the countries and cities have shown progress.
Most Asian countries have established, tightened and expanded ambient air quality standards (AAQS). A decade ago, only few Asian countries had standards, now there is regular air quality monitoring and air control programs.
Despite the improvement in air quality and its management in Asia, there is a need to come together and do some collective thinking. Over 50% of Asians now live in cities, which are estimated to grow by another billion over the next 30 years while the number of megacities will increase from 12 to more than 20. The air quality of 7 out of 10 cities in developing Asian countries is unhealthy, and the number of people struck by cancer, heart attacks, asthma and other diseases caused or made worse by air pollution continues to rise. The challenge is to deal with accelerated urbanization and economic growth, while reducing air pollution.