Round table of the Ministry of Natural Resources on air pollution

Welcoming remarks by UNDP Resident Representative, Ms. Louise Chamberlain

April 25, 2023

Dear Excellency Akylbek Usenbekovich, Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Kyrgyz Republic

Dear Excellency Melis Zhusupzhanovich, Minister of Natural Resources, Ecology and Technical Audit, 

Honorable Members of Parliament, 

Distinguished representatives from the Government and the Bishkek Mayor’s Office, 

Dear Colleagues and experts , Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning!

Thank you for the great privilege to join you in welcoming today’s air pollution roundtable. Let me first of all congratulate the Government and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology for convening us on action to address air pollution in Bishkek among all stakeholders. Today may not be the first time that the government discusses an air pollution action plan, but if I am not mistaken, it may be the first taking place in the springtime after the worst pollution season, and we all understand this signals importance.

We commend the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Bishkek Mayor’s Office, development partners, and all the city leaders who have elevated this issue to the highest political level. I believe it is your hard work and commitment that will ultimately lead to results.

Over the past year, there has been significant progress in understanding the causes of air pollution in Bishkek. Successive studies by four United Nations agencies and by the World Bank have all analysed comprehensive data and unequivocally identified residential heating and transport as the two most significant sources of hazardous air pollution in the city. While there are additional complex causes and mitigating factors, there is no longer any doubt about what causes air pollution, or what causes the most air pollution. The evidence is very clear. 

However, although it is very clear *what* needs to be done to tackle air pollution, successful solutions may not be all that straightforward, for at least three reasons.

Firstly, it requires a combination of large and small scale, which means we need large scale financing but also that financing, on its own, will not suffice. Large scale finance can importantly green the transport sector and help introduce new heating and energy technologies in densely populated areas with high rise buildings. But we also need decentralized solutions and awareness raising programs to change incentives and behaviors across large groups of people, which requires a dispersed and decentralised approach.

Secondly, solutions will require sustained, adaptive, and purposeful urban planning for years to come, with a relentless focus on building greener and more livable cities. We need a city leadership that is focused not only on transport or housing, but on greening, waste management, inclusion and engaging the collaboration and participation of the city’s residents.

There is a close link between poverty, environmental awareness, and availability of alternatives to air pollution. For the most vulnerable populations, we need solutions connected to social protection and we may need to explore, for example, waste management and income generating schemes.

And thirdly, irrespective of income bracket, many people living in urban areas lack a practical understanding of the connection between human behavior and pollution, and the connection between pollution and health. It is essential to raise awareness among citizens, such that every family can take measures to protect especially children from harmful pollution. Much more can be done to augment environmental awareness and educate citizens, which could have important effect on people’s health and will contribute to tackle the problem.

Exposure to pollution has both immediate and long-term health consequences, especially for children, pregnant women, people with respiratory diseases and the elderly. The causal links between toxicity in the air and serious public health challenges is well documented and it will be elaborated in today’s presentations.

Ladies and gentlemen, many of you will know that just last year, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed that everyone on the planet has a right to live in a healthy environment, including clean air, water, and a stable climate. The right to life and the right to development are long since recognised by the international human rights framework, but by articulating this direct link between climate and human wellbeing, UN member states affirmed, among other things, that everyone has the right to live in an environment free of harmful pollutants.

Last winter in Bishkek, there was only one single day with clean air.

Excellency, Mr Chair, we are here today because clean air will require the adoption of new policies for energy and urban transport management that include affordable and accessible solutions for the most vulnerable populations. Today we recognize that it is possible to lay the foundation for great urban environmental management and minimize health effects on current and future generations. 

Bishkek can learn from other global cities that have successfully fought air pollution by implementing strict emission standards for vehicles, gradually phasing out coal-fired power plants while crowding in decentralized solutions for renewable energy access, and developing public transport and other greener transportation options. Such measures, will also create important co-benefits for climate mitigation by reducing carbon emissions. And the policies and solutions that we develop for Bishkek can be tested and replicated across other cities – even smaller cities are equally in need of heating and energy reforms.

Lastly, this is a complex issue that requires comprehensive and coordinated action from multiple government agencies, business, academia and civil society. In recent years we have seen the emergence of a very active and committed group of national activists with strong desire to contribute to solutions through strategic innovation, learning and action focus. Developing workable solutions will require co-creation, and I believe this group of stakeholders is more than ready to partner with the government in developing solutions.

Let me end by reaffirming on the part of UNDP, and indeed the UN community in Kyrgyzstan, that we are committed and ready to work with the Government and all stakeholders in designing innovative solutions to address air pollution in Bishkek. 

Thank you for your attention. Chon rakhmat!