Skip to content ↓
Expert Q&A

Air Pollution: Why Focus on Cities?

Daniel Kass Senior Vice President, Environmental Health

A Q&A with Dan Kass, SVP, Enviornmental Health

What should cities or countries be doing to combat air pollution and its adverse health effects?

Cities and countries can best protect the health of residents  from air pollution by eliminating air pollution sources through policy solutions. Regulatory and investment policies that enforce emission standards, support public transportation, manage municipal waste, and expand access to clean energy sources will improve air quality and reduce pollution’s negative effects on health. We work closely with policymakers to strengthen technical capacity to analyze these issues and to design policy solutions that address long-term control of pollution sources.

Why focus on cities?

By 2050, there will be 2.5 billion more people living in cities where rapid urbanization and increased energy demand will cluster pollution sources and create air pollution hot spots. While these growing cities are often the sites of the world’s dirtiest air, they also present tremendous opportunities for a public health approach to drive air quality improvement. For example, compact urbanization is conducive to developing the efficient networks for public transportation, modern energy, and waste management that keep emissions low. We work in cities because in addition to hosting some of the biggest air pollution challenges, they hold the most effective solutions.

What challenges do countries face in improving air quality?

A major barrier to clean air action is insufficient public concern.  In many places, policymakers and the public alike are of unaware of the magnitude air pollution’s devastating health effects. This lack of awareness delays the mobilization of local and international resources. Strategic communications on the health burdens and economic costs of air pollution are key to shaping public discourse on the issue and maintaining pressure on political leadership to address air pollution directly. Most successful efforts to improve air quality involve members of civil society—doctors, journalists, students—engaging with their policymakers to advocate for clean air.

Why is air quality monitoring important?

Air quality monitoring is a foundational step for all effective air quality management programs. Monitors allow us to characterize air pollution by answering questions about its chemical makeup, sources, and behavior in the environment. These data then inform how resources should be invested to enact the most effective solutions. Through our work, we help cities improve upon the existing monitoring system and give guidance on how to use the available data to jumpstart air quality management systems.