Air’volution: cities improving air quality!

We know for sure that city dwellers are highly affected by worsening air quality across the world and the majority of deaths caused by air pollution occur in cities. In the past ten years, cities have been working together as part of the group C40Cities to find solutions to protect their citizens. The Mayors of the cities that are part of this group have come up with some innovative proposals to push an Air’Volution that stems pollution in the cities. The end of March saw the announcement of bold plans to address locally created air pollution.

The C40Cities, launched in 2005, is a group created and led by cities that connects 90+ cities across 50+countries, representing 650+ million people and one quarter of the global economy. The group recognizes that cities generate most of the world’s carbon emissions and house almost 60% of the global population, hence the importance of their stance in transforming the systems that create the most carbon emissions: transport, building and waste.

What is the Air’volution?

It’s the collection of actions taken by cities to address air pollution and control vehicle emissions. Remember what started as a VW (Volkswagen) scandal? There is now a list of car manufacturers that have been found to manipulate the tests of car emissions. Not to mention that we now know the real polluting nature of diesel cars, even the EURO 6 diesel engines releases more fine particulate matter than heavy duty trucks. Such as:

  • Emissions on the road have been proven to be 15 times greater than emissions in laboratory conditions. Paris and London are working on creating a scheme to score new cars based on their real-world emissions and air quality impact, rather than a laboratory measure. All data is expected to be released by end 2017 so that consumers will be able to know the score for each car model. Seoul, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, Moscow, Oslo and Tokyo and other cities have committed to work in the development of a global scoring system.

“For too long, some vehicle manufacturers have been able to hide behind inconsistent regulation and consumer uncertainty about the damage their cars are causing,” said Mayor of Paris and C40 Chair, Anne Hidalgo. “This announcement is a wake-up call to car companies that they need to act now. Citizens of Paris and cities around the world demand clean air to breathe and this new scoring scheme will be key to helping achieve that.  I am pleased that Paris, the city of the Climate Agreement, is working with London and Seoul to support this project.”

“This scheme is also a fantastic example of how big cities around the world can pool their expertise and their influence to encourage big industry to clean up its act. The toxicity of the air in London and many other big cities is an outrage, and schemes of the type we are introducing in London and Paris have the potential to make a massive difference to the quality of the air we all breathe.”

Other measures include:

Cities implementing low-emission zones: London has proposed to introduce an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London, where cars will have to meet the minimum emission requirements or pay a daily fine (£10). In Paris, vehicles are restricted access for the most polluting vehicles, through the use of Crit’Air stickers. And Seoul has recently designated a Green Transport Promotion Zone that restricts old diesel vehicles and construction equipment, the objective is to cut carbon emissions from vehicles by 40% and vehicle demand by 30%.

A number of Asian cities are part of the C40Cities: Auckland, Bangaluru, Bangkok, Beijing, Chengdu, Chennai, Delhi, Dalian, Dhaka, Guangzhou, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Jaipur, Jakarta, Kolkata, Mumbi, Nanjing, Singapore, Shenzen, Shanghai, Seoul, Sydney, Yokohama, Chennai, Mumbai, Tokyo and Wuhan.  Most of these cities need to learn from experiences from other cities in reducing vehicles emissions.

We need to better understand air pollution patterns in our cities to make the most of these policies. Deployment of air quality monitors across the cities is the first step!

C40 CITIES – Air’volution
C40 CITIES – Press Release: Mayors of Paris and London Announce Car Scoring System to Slash Air Pollution on City Streets
The International Council on Clean Transportation – First look: Results of the German transport ministry’s post-VW vehicle testing

Air Quality Policy in HK

Beyond the constant air pollution news and our daily experience with pollution, how much do we know about air quality in our Asian cities? And do we know what the local governments are doing to improve air quality?

Today we will take a look at the situation in Hong Kong. Pollution in HK comes from local street-level pollution caused by vehicles and regional smog caused by motor vehicles, marine vessels, industry and power plants both in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region.

What is the Government doing?

The Government has an Air Pollution Control Ordinance and a Clean Air Plan where the objective is to achieve ‘reasonable and practicable air quality to safeguard the health of the population’. Strategies include controlling emissions from motor vehicles, marine vessels, power plants and industry and coordination with the Guangdong Provincial Authorities to implement a joint plan. Strategies are based on the Air Quality Objectives (AQO) set in 2014 and are a combination of WHO’s ultimate Air Quality Guideline (AQG)  and interim targets. In the table below we can see a comparison between WHO AQG and HK AQO with regards to PM10 and PM2.5.

The Actions

What is the current situation like?

The Clean Air Network HK has recently released a report based on 2016 data where they found that HK AQO haven’t been met in the past 3 years and in fact is usually twice the WHO recommended level. Moreover, on a daily basis there is a variation of readings in which peak times air quality is 2.6 times worse than off-peak times, suggesting vehicles are having a higher role in damaging local air quality.

 “The growth of vehicles number has gone uncontrollable and offset some of the effort made by the government, especially to reduce NO2.” The CEO of Clean Air Network, Patrick Fung, said.  “The next term of government should look at this imminent issue as top of the agenda. Traffic has been a daily headache to all Hong Kong people, and is an impediment to the improvement of air quality, public health and other living qualities.”

According to the Hedley Environmental Index of HKU School of Public Health, the air pollution in 2016 caused 1,686 premature deaths, 21.6 billion direct economic loss and 2.65 million additional doctor visits.

Overall, we need to have more information on air quality and a broader coverage of monitoring stations in order to better understand the situation in the city and have targeted local policies!

Clean Air Network – How bad is Hong Kong air now
HKSAR Environment Bureau – A Clean Air Plan
Environmental Protection Department – Air Quality Objectives Website
Environmental Protection Department – Compliance Status of Air Quality Objectives

TIPS: How To Protect Your Skin From Polluted Air

In Asia, air pollution is a daily fact, we tend to look at its level on a daily basis. Many decide not to exercise outdoor when pollution is high or simply to avoid going outdoors to protect their lungs. However, Particulate Matter accumulates in our pores throughout the day and we seldom worry about our skin exposure to air pollution.

In the past decades we have learnt a lot to protect our skin from the sun and its UV light. However, our skin is also vulnerable to air pollution and the public is slowly starting to acknowledge it. Protecting our skin is important because it is the barrier to keep organisms and detrimental chemicals out of our body. If the skin is damaged, we are more prone to allergies and reactions and diseases.

Since 1998, L’Oreal started to research the effect of air pollution on skin. The latest research was published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science and included results from Mexico and Shanghai. It was found that pollutants such as ozone, car exhaust and industrial gases all increase oxidized proteins, increase sebum production, deplete the skin of vitamin E – which prevents skin damage, and squalene – a lipid that protects the skin from moisture loss; moreover recently a link between pollution and pigmentation was also found. All these effects combined accelerate the appearance of fine lines, destroy collagen and elastin and increase the loss of elasticity.

Dr. Giuseppe Valacchi, an associate professor in physiology at the Department of Life Sciences and Biotechnology at the University of Ferrara in Italy said “It’s as if ozone were designed specifically to injure our skin”.

Similarly, Zoe Draelos, M.D., consulting professor of dermatology at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. said “I do not think that a lot of people fully understand or appreciate the effects of the nanoparticles that are generated from either internal combustion engines, cigarette smoke or byproducts of industrial processes,”. She added, “The truth is that these can have a profound effect on the skin in terms of premature skin aging, and we as dermatologists need not only to be aware of their action but also appropriately advise our patients in how to best avoid them.”

How to protect your skin?

1. Follow a skincare routine on a daily basis
  • Wash your face with the right cleanser every night.
  • Use beneficial antioxidants: vitamin C and E on your skin. Many cosmetic brands have vitamin C and E products to use on your face skin, which will help repair the loss of elasticity.
  • Use skin barrier repair with a pollution control moisturizer.
2. Adopt a diet that helps skin care from within
  • Increase your intake of kelp, spirulina to help remove heavy metals
  • Increase antioxidants in your diet with berries, peppers, greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, nuts and seeds.
  • Increase consumption of live yoghurt and fermented products like kefir grains. This will help nutrient absorption and make toxin removal more efficie

Adopt healthy habits, protect your skin!

Have you heard the news on COP22 in Marrakech?

It seems like it was only yesterday that climate change and pollution concerns got momentum and grabbed the attention of governments and citizens during the COP21 in Paris – the yearly meeting (Conference of Parties) of the signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The meeting resulted in the Paris Agreement and governments, businesses and civil societies gathered this year in Marrakech at COP22 from 7-18 November to push forward the Agreement.

The Paris Agreement in a nutshell

  • Adopted in Paris during COP21 (Dec 2015).
  • Has been ratified by 113 out of 197 Parties to the Convention and entered into force on November 5th.
  • Governments are obligated to keep the average temperature rise to maximum 2 degrees (Co) above pre-industrial levels, emissions should peak at 2020 and then decrease from there on.
  • Countries are to openly report on emissions and account for climate action.
  • Strengthens countries capacity to deal with climate change impacts through financial, technology development & transfer and capacity building frameworks.

After 10 days full of scientific, political, economic discussions and even art and musical events, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concluded:

The landmark Paris Agreement set the course and the destination for global climate action. Here in Marrakech, governments underlined that this shift is now urgent, irreversible and unstoppable. She added that “Indeed, this year, we have seen extraordinary momentum on climate change worldwide, and in many multilateral forums. This momentum is irreversible – it is being driven not only by governments, but by science, businesses and global action of all types at all levels.”

Concrete results at COP22 in the key areas of finance, technological innovation and capacity building for climate adaptation include:

  • Multi-billion US dollar packages of support for clean technologies; building capacity to report on climate action plans, and initiatives for boosting water and food security in developing countries were pledged.
  • Businesses, investors and cities issued climate change commitments. The ‘We Mean Business’ coalition of organisations announced that in total, 471 companies with over US$ 8 trillion in market capitalization have undertaken well over a thousand ambitious commitments to climate action.
  • The Under2 MOU*  -A group of 165 countries and regions with a combined GDP of 26 trillion and 1 billion population, committed to reduce their emissions by 80% by 2020.


We can only work for more and more results to improve our environment!


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – Nations Take Forward Global Climate Action at 2016 UN Climate Conference
The Climate Group – Under2 Coalition

*The Subnational Global Climate Leadership MOU is nicknamed the Under2 MOU in reference to: The goal of limiting warming to below 2° Celsius, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists say is needed to avoid dangerous consequences. The Under2 Coalition’s shared goal of limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 2 tons per capita, or 80-95% below 1990 level by 2050.

Meo’s Great News to Share!

Today we would like to share some exciting news about meo’s progress! We have been hard at work on many fronts in the past months and October has seen the fruition to some of these efforts.

We are very excited to announce that meo’s air quality solution is the first of its kind being patented. The HK Intellectual Property Office has validated meo’s air quality solution which is now “Patented”. Simultaneously, our trademark for the name and logo of meo has also been accepted as of early October.

You probably remember our recent call for social media support in our run for the Hong Kong CityTech award. Well thanks to your support, we received the CityTech Award from Civic Exchange and the Internet Society. The meo solution was selected and polled well, getting the third most votes via social media of 20 initiatives detailed on the website.

And the best part is that we are advancing well in our seed-funding round and are now able to dive into the optimization of our current prototype. We are making sure the product that will hit the market in December 2016 will have high quality, precision, accuracy and functionality.

Safe Indoor Air, Safe Businesses!

Air Pollution Effects Beyond Health

Interest and research focus on the effects of air pollution is increasing, and now spreading beyond the realm of health. The World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) published in September 2016 the report: The Cost of Air Pollution, Strengthening the Economic Case for Action. The objective of the report is to show the economic meaning of the health effects of pollution, beyond the purely health-related cost.

Since the 1990’s researchers have looked into the link between air pollution and chronic and even fatal health outcomes. The risk has been increasing with the burgeoning of urban life in developing countries and the need for rapid economic development in emerging economies. However, the use of wood, charcoal, dung and coal for heating and cooking in many rural areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America also contributes remarkably to the health risk from air pollution. The World Health Organization has recently said that 9 out of 10 people in the world are affected by air pollution.

According to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), healthcare costs related to air pollution are projected to increase from the current 21 billion USD in 2015 to 176billion USD in 2060 (using constant 2010 USD values) with an annual projected number of lost working days of 3.7 billion globally (currently 1.2 billion).

What is interesting in the latest report from the World Bank is that it shows the effects of pollution on development. Beyond the health effects and the health costs, there is naturally a reduction in the quality of life, a reduction of income, reduced productivity and innovation, degradation of natural ecosystems, crop yields, perpetuation of inequalities and even decreased economic competitiveness to attract top talent. However, taking action in favor of clean air is costly and often seen as a brake on economic development in low and middle-income countries. The World Bank decided to further research on this matter to strike a balance between the gains of rapid development with no consideration to air pollution, and a more conscious development that understands the economic losses of increased air pollution. In fact the US Office of Management and Budget has acknowledged that the rules issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve air quality are the most economically beneficial federal regulations.

Key findings of the study show that it is estimated that since 1990 air pollution has been the fourth highest modifiable cause of premature death. In 2013 air pollution had a global cost of US$225 billion from lost labor income or US$5.11 trillion of losses in welfare, which is equivalent to the GDP of India, Canada and Mexico combined. Welfare losses in Asia (South, East and the Pacific) were equivalent to 7.4% of the regional GDP. Lost income in South Asia was of the magnitude of 66 billion (nearly 1% GDP). From 1990 to 2013 premature mortality attributable to PM2.5 increased by 30% while global welfare losses increased by 63% and labor income losses by 40% with a larger effect on men than women.

As more evidence on the economic effects of air pollution emerges, countries should be urged to measure their pollution at a wider scale in order to implement adequate policies.


The World Bank – The Cost of Air Pollution : Strengthening the Economic Case for Action

OECD – The Economic Consequences of Outdoor Air Pollution

Cities and Their Share in Air Quality Policies

Urban population is growing in all continents as people are attracted by the convenience of cities. However, it’s in the cities that people are most exposed to air pollution on a daily basis: the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 80% of world citizens are breathing an air that exceeds WHO air safety threshlods. During COP21 in Paris, 1000 mayors from across the world made a firm commitment to reduce pollution in towns and cities. These mayors have committed to put ‘the health of citizens over that of industrial lobbies’.

C40 -the network of megacities committed to address climate change, has highlighted 5 key interventions to reduce pollution that are in the hands of city governments and are currently being implemented by many cities:

  1.  Restrictions on private motor vehicles
  2. Low-emission public transport
  3. Measurement and management to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Asian cities are also taking measures to various degrees:

Hong Kong, for example, faces two major air pollution sources: local street-level pollution and regional smog from power plants, marine vessels and industry both in the city and the Pearl River Delta. To tackle air pollution Hong Kong focuses on reducing emissions from vehicles via incentives to retrofit old diesel vehicles with particulate reduction devices, helping owners replace their old vehicles, controlling smoky vehicles, and subsidizing a trial of electric double-decker buses. HK government has also capped the locally supplied marine diesel to 0.05% sulphur [lower levels of sulphur content translate o lower levels of particulate matter being released into the air], all the government marine vessels use EuroV diesel, and all vessels are required to switch to 0.05% sulphur content while berthing. Finally, power plants, which have been restricted from opening new coal-fired plants since 1997 and instead are encouraged to use natural gas.

In Singapore the plan focuses mainly on urban planning and reduction of vehicle and industry emissions.

And Beijing, which started in the 1970’s to control coal-fired air pollution, and then in the 1990’s moved to control vehicles emissions through an integrated emission control system. This includes control of new vehicles, fuel quality improvement, promotion of new energy vehicles, driving restrictions, incentives to phase out older vehicles and shifting more public transport to rail mode. However, PM2.5 and O3 continue to grow especially due to regional characteristics and the influence of regional transport.

NGOs in Europe such as Clean Air London and in Asia such as Clean Air Network or Greenpeace call for more and bolder measures to reduce air pollution. Greenpeace advocates in China have called for a drastic reduction of coal-fired plants, Clean Air Network in Hong Kong advocates for more vehicle restrictions, low emission zones and stricter regulations for marine vessels at berth. It is clear that despite the introduction of air quality control policies, air pollution continues to be a problem, so there is more work to be done in this area.

A good starting point is giving citizens and governments better access to information on air pollution to push for stronger policies and to understand which policies have a greater impact on the air we all breathe!


C40 – Mayors from around the world won’t breathe easily until urban air pollution is tackled

C40 – Five ways C40 cities are taking action to curb air pollution