Opening Remarks by Ms. Louise Chamberlain at the launch of the UNDP-UNEP Joint Assessment of Air Quality in Bishkek

October 31, 2022

Dear Vice Minister of Natural Resources, Ecology and Technical Supervision of the Kyrgyz Republic,

Dear Representative of the Mayor of Bishkek,

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning!

It is my pleasure to join this event today, on the World Cities Day, and together with our partners, United Nations Environment Programme, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ecology and Technical Supervision and Bishkek Mayor’s Office, to present the results of the recent UNDP-UNEP joint assessment of air quality in Bishkek.

In winter time, Bishkek tops many air quality rankings worldwide as among the cities with the worst air quality. While the natural environment is badly affected, this is first and foremost a critical human development issue with real and tangible impacts on the health of Bishkek citizens. During the decade from 2010-2019, approximately 12-13% of annual deaths in Kyrgyzstan were attributed to air pollution. The health costs of air pollution in the country were estimated at USD 388 million or 6% of Gross National Income in 2015.

Indeed, human development is tightly coupled with environmental impact, including this of cities. Since the Sustainable Development Goals aim to tackle the issue of how humanity can live sustainably, the goal to improve air quality is an integral part of the 2030 sustainable development agenda, notably its Goal 3 on Good Health and Wellbeing and Goal 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Air pollution, indoor and outdoor, affects the most vulnerable: elderly, children, people with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Women are typically more affected. The issue is complex and the causes and consequences of air pollution in the city are not always straightforward. Many people are not aware of the industrial processes and human behaviors that trigger pollution.

It was this evidence deficit that prompted the United Nations Development Programme and the the UN Environment Programme, to commission the research on air quality in Bishkek, in response to a request from the national government.

We know that there have recently been multiple studies and projects about air pollution in Bishkek driven and implemented by multiple international organisations such as the UN Environmental Programme, UNICEF, World Bank, GIZ, Asian Development Bank, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, and implemented by several local actors in Bishkek. These studies have complementary value and are all important to enrich our understanding of how this problem can be addressed.

UNDP encourages and supports building solid air quality management for the Bishkek city and a broad understanding of the causes of air pollution in the capital of the country.

This study is unique as it provides the first ever comprehensive analysis of key emission sources and their impact on ground-level air pollution concentrations in the city. Essentially, it offers decision-makers, for the first time, with scientific evidence to underpin policy-making.

During today’s event our research partner, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, will present the results of the study in detail. The document is already available for download online from the UNDP website and QR code, so I invite you to take a look. We are very glad to share the results of the assessment with the general public and it is significant that there now is a scientific foundation on the issue of air pollution. The study of course is only a baseline for the significant effort of actually tackling the problem.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Tackling air pollution requires system-wide approaches and concerted effort across multiple comprehensive approaches. In other words, not only must we work together as partners, but we must ensure to all work in the same, low carbon, low toxicity direction. As single individuals we cannot change the system, but we can identify and scale

As individuals there is only so much, we can do, so we need attention and bold action from policy-makers at regional national, city and district levels; legislators, private sector, academia, civil society, youth and activists.

Essentially, it is the citizen’s demand for energy that’s driving air pollution so to address it, we need large meaningful investments in innovative energy solutions, notably affordable and clean heating technologies, and bolstering the electricity system through renewables, as well as improving technologies used in transport. This, by the way, is part of the national climate agenda and commitments and if these solutions are implemented, Kyrgyzstan will also benefit from reduced greenhouse gas emissions, thereby making a positive contribution to the global efforts to combat climate change.

We need to engage the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in changing heating patterns, and this could just be a huge opportunity for a just transition to a clean and sustainable economy.

We also need enhanced legislation on air pollution and enhanced monitoring to collect necessary data, including for understanding the pollution hotspots throughout the city.

We also need to raise awareness about air pollution and its detrimental effects on human health among the population. We hope that our study encourages the local community to continue specialised research on air quality in Bishkek and supports the emergence of a broad consensus on the causes of air pollution, as well as to adopt best practices based on the latest science and learn from international experience.

The heating season has just started and we’re already seeing dangerous levels of air pollution in the city, but let’s not get too pessimistic about air pollution. It is human-made but it can also be solved by humans. Today, during the panel discussion, we will have policymakers and representatives of UNDP and UNEP speaking about possible policy solutions in Bishkek, as well as examples in addressing poor air quality in different countries in our region.

In closing, let me congratulate the government, the Mayor’s Office and the people of Kyrgyzstan for the commitment to address the issue of air pollution. UNDP stands ready to support the efforts of national partners in tackling this, including through the instruments for a just clean energy transition and our support to the formulation of the country’s key policies on climate action. I hope that today’s event can become a platform for stimulating new partnerships among multiple stakeholders and exploring new ideas for policy action.

Thank you.