Integrated Air Quality and Climate Action with Health Impacts

A city’s most important asset is the health of its citizens. Yet seven million premature deaths annually are attributed to air pollution, most in developing countries with rapid growth.

Air pollution can be significantly reduced by expanding access to clean household fuels and technologies, as well as prioritizing: rapid urban transit, walking and cycling networks; energy-efficient buildings and urban design; improved waste management; and electricity production from renewable power sources. This Package focuses on the processes which Local Governments (LGs) can undertake in the relevant sectors of their economies to promote air quality as well as climate action in their communities and engender health impacts.

A specific Solution is dedicated to the overall Integrated Solid Waste Management process, giving an overarching perspective in its different dimensions, including technical, political, institutional, social, economic, and financial. Other solutions zooms-in on sustainable transportation approaches such as Integrated Land Use and Transport planning, Sustainable Urban Freight and Logistics and Transit Oriented Development. For the energy sector, a solution on integrating district energy into energy and urban planning is presented.

Motivation / Relevance

From smog hanging over cities to smoke inside the home, air pollution poses a major threat to health and climate. The combined effects of ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution cause about seven million premature deaths every year, largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections [1]. More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the WHO guideline level of 10µg/m3, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures [2].

The main sources of the air pollution include inefficient fossil fuel combustion from motor vehicle transport, power generation, building heating systems, agriculture/waste incineration and industry [1]. In addition, more than 3 billion people worldwide rely on polluting technologies and fuels (including biomass, coal and kerosene) for household cooking, heating and lighting, releasing smoke into the home and leaching pollutants outdoors.

Reducing the public health impacts of ambient air pollution requires addressing the main sources of the air pollution, including inefficient fossil fuel combustion from motor vehicle transport, power generation and improving energy efficiency in homes, buildings and manufacturing.

Air quality is closely linked to earth’s climate and ecosystems globally. Many of the drivers of air pollution (i.e. combustion of fossil fuels) are also sources of high CO2 emissions. Some air pollutants such as ozone and black carbon are short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) that greatly contribute to climate change and affect agricultural productivity. Policies to reduce air pollution, therefore, offer a “win-win” strategy for both climate and health, lowering the burden of disease attributable to air pollution, as well as contributing to the near- and long-term mitigation of climate change [3].

Main impacts

  • Improve air quality, health and quality of life of the population and reduce safety hazards through contributions to low emission, sustainable mobility, and urban hygiene.
  • Contribution to a green economy, including through poverty alleviation.
  • Increased sustainability, efficiency and productivity gains from improved integration of transportation, waste management, energy use, land use, development and urban infrastructure systems.
  • More reliable energy supply which can use multiple technologies and fuels.
  • Future-proofed network: allows easy adoption of renewable energy and new technologies without the need to install equipment in each building.
  • Energy security and reduced fossil fuel imports, due to energy-efficiency improvements and renewable energy use.
  • Urban resilience as a result of efficient use and conservation of natural resources and a more compact urban form.
  • Increase the availability of land for productive purposes by minimizing the need for waste disposal.
  • Stimulate investment in urban infrastructure that is smart and resource efficient.
  • Improve the image of the city and of the local government.
  • Climate change mitigation, both directly by minimizing GHG emissions from waste disposal and burning, shift to renewable energy and indirectly due to energy efficiency options and replacement of raw materials and fossil fuels.

Benefits and Co-Benefits

Environmental benefits:

  • Potential reduction of fossil fuels consumption through increased efficiency in primary energy use: on average coal power stations efficiency is 33 per cent [World Coal Association, 2014 in 4], while combined heat and power (CHP) plants are typically 80–90 per cent efficient.
  • Reduction of air pollution associated with burning of fossil fuels, such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates, due to energy-efficiency improvements and renewable energy use.
  • Enables increased use of local renewable resources and waste heat, particularly those that are not technically or economically viable at the singe-building scale.
  • Better air quality associated with reduced waste burning and disposal, automobile use and traffic congestion leading to lesser emissions of particulates, ozone and volatile organic compounds.
  • More efficient use of existing urban land and conservation of agricultural land, green space, wetland, water body, habitats and ecological communities arising from prevention of space-intensive, automobile-oriented development and reduced waste disposal;
  • Maximize percentage of municipal solid waste collected, treated and disposed of in a hygienic and environmentally sound way.
  • Maximize percentage of municipal solid waste reused as raw materials or as energy source.

Economic benefits:

  • Stimulation of local economic development through:
    • Better connectivity
    • attraction of investment to the neighborhood;
    • increase in commercial activity and local revenues;
    • creation of value for commercial and residential land and property;
    • opportunities for capturing and reinvesting generated value in local communities;
  • Additional income opportunities for the local government, either as revenues if the utility is a subsidiary or in the form of taxes.
  • Lower costs for the provision of energy, due to synergies, increased efficiency and economies of scale.
  • Affordable energy, consumer protection against price volatility and enhanced ability for local government to adopt measures targeting end-users experiencing fuel poverty.
  • Green local jobs to construct and operate the district energy, integrated solid waste management and sustainable transport systems.
  • Contribute to economic viability of mass transit systems by resulting in higher occupancy rates. Increase in transit agency’s revenues potentially leading to network expansion and/or improvement in service quality;
  • Economic opportunities arising from greater connectivity and proximity of housing, services and jobs;
  • Increased commercial activity due to people-friendly public spaces;
  • Potential for reduced healthcare costs associated with lack of physical activity, and respiratory diseases caused by poor air quality.
  • Reduced economic losses associated with traffic congestion (e.g.: fuel, productivity, etc.).
  • Relief of traffic and congestion pressures on city center through i) decentralizing employment spots; ii) mixed-use approach to development; iii) shift of individual travel patterns to public transportation modes;

Social benefits:

  • Greater affordability due to decreased transportation costs.
  • Social inclusion associated with better access to transportation, housing, services, waste management, jobs, education, etc.;
  • Opportunities for greater social interaction, sense of community and heightened sense of place associated with more and better quality public spaces, improved pedestrian environment, etc.;
  • Potential for greater social diversity associated with mixed-use and mixed-income development;
  • Potential for meeting employment, housing, civic, recreational and other community needs;
  • Potential for improved public health outcomes associated with increased physical activity on active travels (walking and cycling) and better air quality;
  • Potential for improved public safety associated with reduced traffic and crime.
  • Creation of more livable and walkable communities.


Low hanging fruit
  • Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM)

    This Solution focuses on the integrated process which Local Governments can implement for the delivery of technically appropriate, environmentally sound and financially viable waste management concepts in their communities. ISWM requires long-term planning considering both the local context and wider framework conditions. It takes into account technical, political, institutional, social and economic factors. It promotes stakeholder engagement, explores cooperation with neighbor communities and integration at different geographic scales and governance levels. Learn More...

  • Waste Incineration with Energy Recovery

    Waste incineration with energy recovery, usually named Waste-to-Energy (WtE), treat waste hygienically, reduce its volume by about 90%, and enable the recovery of energy through the generation of electricity and /or thermal energy (steam or hot water). The choice of WtE needs to be developed within an integrated waste management approach and a clear framework for emissions control, to ensure adequate installation design, operation and quality control, in order to deliver the desired environmental performance. Learn More...

  • Integrating district energy into energy and urban planning

    This Solution supports local governments in enhancing district energy systems feasibility and implementation in new urban development / redevelopment through integrated energy, land-use and infrastructure planning, land-use and urban planning policies, regulations and administrative licensing procedures. This Solution also supports the definition of a long-term energy strategy for the city as a whole that maximizes the use of local energy resources and improves systems coherence, energy efficiency, reliability and affordability of heat and/or cooling through the inclusion of district energy. This Solution is particularly relevant for cities that are developing new areas or redeveloping / densifying nodes in the city. Learn More...

    img description
  • Transit-oriented development (TOD)

    Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is urban development that relies on public transport, while maintaining a closely knitted urban fabric through high-density, mixed land use and human-scale design, within walking distance from transit stations. Key features of TOD include: high-quality public spaces which are sensitive to community needs; variety of housing types and prices, frequent reliable, fast and comfortable transit; and measures discouraging the use of private cars. TOD can create socially vibrant communities, contribute to economic development and sustainable mobility, and enhance environmental quality. Learn More...

  • Sustainable Urban Freight and Logistics

Additional Information