Making science work for development

The dirty problem of air pollution in Asia

A hazy evening in Beijing (Image: Kenneth)
9 December 2015

UK-funded research is looking to tackle the growing problem of air pollution, at a time when Asian cities are suffering badly and major talks on climate change take place in Paris. 

On Monday 7 December Beijing issued its first air pollution red alert. Millions of vehicles were forced off the roads, factories and construction sites shut down and schools and nurseries advised to close.

Smog levels in some areas rose to 40 times those considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

Meanwhile, world leaders have been meeting in Paris all this week to agree on a deal to cut fossil fuel emissions worldwide.

Urban air pollution poses a serious threat to human health, putting those living in some of the world's largest cities at higher risk of cancer, heart and lung conditions and premature death.

As part of the Newton Fund, the UK is investing £5.5 million into understanding air pollution in Beijing and how it can be reduced.

Beijing's air pollution problem is nothing new (Image by rytc)

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Medical Research Council (both UKCDS member organisations) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China, UK and Chinese scientists aim to identify the concentrations and sources of urban air pollution in Beijing, how people are exposed, how it affects their health, and what can be done about it.

Funding has been awarded to five four-year projects:

  • Sources & emissions of air pollutants in Beijing (AIRPOLL-Beijing)

  • An integrated study of air pollution processes in Beijing (AIRPRO)

  • Air pollution impacts on cardiopulmonary disease in Beijing: An integrated study of exposure science, toxicogenomics & environmental epidemiology (APIC-ESTEE)

  • Effects of air pollution on cardiopulmonary disease in urban & peri-urban residents in Beijing (AIRLESS)

  • Integrated assessment of the emission-health-socioeconomics nexus & air pollution mitigation solutions & interventions in Beijing (INHANCE)

UCL students use analytics tools to understand air pollution

To help understand what science and technology can do to help tackle air pollution, UKCDS recently worked with students from the School of Management at University College London on a unique mapping exercise. The 50 students were given one week, and a suite of cutting-edge analytics tools, to analyse what innovations are needed to help significantly reduce the number of deaths related to air pollution in Asian cities.

UKCDS will be sharing the results from the mapping exercise in the next couple of months. 

For more information see the NERC website or original Guardian article.

  • NERC

  • The Guardian