Can the global air pollution crisis lead to effective climate action?
Is it safe to take a jog outside today? Should schools stay open? How do I protect myself and my family from extreme levels of air pollution affecting our health? These questions have been top of mind for many Americans as large swaths of the northeastern and midwestern US have continued to be shrouded in particulate matter stemming from unusually strong Canadian forest fires. But the current air pollution levels in North America this summer are not far from the routine poor to hazardous air quality experienced throughout the year by millions of people around the world. For the 33 million people living in Delhi, for example, air pollution is estimated to reduce life expectancies by a staggering nine years.
Low- and middle-income countries have been grappling with these issues for many years, and high-income countries are increasingly paying attention to policies that simultaneously improve air quality and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, argues Andre Zollinger. Evidence generated by researchers affiliated with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), where Andre is a senior policy manager, showed that in many cases improving regulation and behavioural incentives can reduce pollution at a low cost. J-PAL is a research centre that runs the King Climate Action Initiative, where evaluations of policies such as improved and more transparent auditing of large polluters or emissions trading schemes for particulate matter have started building convincing evidence that these approaches work at a low cost in high-growth economies like India.