Integrating Air Pollution and Climate Change Policy in Asia

On October 8, SMU Tower Center’s Sun & Star Program introduced the topic of climate change in Asia to the eyes and ears of viewers across the globe. As Americans, I feel that we often overlook the efforts of other institutions and nations in their efforts to curb global warming and fail to celebrate the steps towards it, no matter how big or small, in places beyond our own borders. This webinar, moderated by Professor Hiroki Takeuchi and delivered by Eric Zusman from the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) in Japan, discussed some of the strides made in the Eastern hemisphere, namely in China and countries in South East Asia.

Mr. Zusman explained that the goal of the IGES was to propose action plans for countries across the globe to achieve sustainable development goals. With less than 8% of the population of Asia and the Pacific enjoying clean air, the IGES hoped to achieve some of these goals through a “co-benefit” strategy, in which addressing the main goal to mitigate greenhouse gases would also achieve developmental goals. This strategy addressed energy-efficient standards, renewable portfolio standards, and public transportation upgrades. By focusing on these concerns, Asia’s developmental needs could also be met, such as improved public health, better jobs, greater energy access, and enhanced mobility among others.

While this approach is compelling, Mr. Zusman explained that government implementation of these policy measures would pose complications and would require multilevel government involvement. Seeing the benefits of the IGES’s policy recommendations would require capacity and coordination both vertically, between the governmental hierarchy, and horizontally, between bureaucratic agencies. This challenge explains why in some countries, such as Laos and Cambodia, the IGES worked at a grassroots level to tackle the issue of climate change.

Through local civil society organizations and interventions, this think tank took steps towards mitigating the harmful effects of global warming by introducing accessible innovations, such as ones that turned manure into fuel or offered cleaner and more efficient alternatives to fueling stoves. These isolated projects, which circumvented the government, avoided corruption and bureaucracy that may have prevented progress. Furthermore, Zusman emphasized the importance of civil society in setting the norms for how to see and understand climate change issues to initiate the climate policy discussion. In the status quo, there is only a gradual improvement in the understanding of greenhouse emissions lowering air quality, and unlike in the US, climate discussion remains in the scientific realm rather than in the sphere of common knowledge in Asia.

Although there is still significant change that needs to take place not only in Asia but across the globe in terms of climate policy, think tanks and institutions like the IGES give hope for the future of climate change mitigation. Through this webinar, we were provided a window into the efforts taken in places on the other side of the world. Perhaps it is time we begin to implement the policies we hope to see in other countries.

Watch the full event in the video below.


This post was written by Saavni Desai ’23, a President’s Scholar and Tower Scholar. She is double majoring in Political Science and International Studies with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa and triple minoring in Arabic, Philosophy, and the Tower Scholars Public Policy and International Affairs minor. She also does research alongside Professor Takeuchi and is involved in Mock Trial, Indian Student Association, and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.