The EPIC Clean Air Program is working to bring actionable information about the quality of the air we breathe and its impact on our health to every corner of the globe in order to motivate action and lay guideposts for efficient air pollution policies. This work includes an Air Quality Monitoring and Data Access project to bring high quality and high frequency air pollution monitoring and data access to the places of the world where it is needed most; the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which uses air pollution data to translate the impact of pollution on a person’s life expectancy; and the Clean Air Markets program that runs in partnership with Indian state governments to bring air pollution trading markets to Indian cities and beyond.

The mission of the EPIC Clean Air Program is based on a simple theory of change underlying the air pollution challenge.

Theory of Change

History shows that air pollution is a solvable problem. Clean air requires effective policies. Effective policies require a demand for change. To demand change, citizens need to understand the scope of the problem. 

1)       Local information about air pollution: EPIC Air Quality Fund

When citizens in the United States and China demanded change, at the foundation of these demands was data that allowed them to first understand the depth of the problem, and then later, data to provide a guidepost for setting air quality standards and evaluating their progress.

Research shows that installing air quality monitors and sharing real-time data with the public in places with very little or no data leads to cleaner air. Yet, 40 percent of countries—many of which satellite data shows are highly polluted—aren’t producing open air quality data for their citizens. They are also countries caught in a vicious cycle of inequality. Europe, the United States and Canada contribute just 4.2 percent of the world’s life years lost to pollution, but they receive 60 percent of philanthropic funds to combat it. Much of the rest of the world receives half that or even less. Africa, for example, receives philanthropic funding for air pollution equivalent to the average price of a single-family home in the United States. With little funding to address the issue, such as by installing air quality monitors, few countries provide their citizens with fully open air quality data. With little data, it is hard to generate a call for change or set policies. It is also hard to attract funding toward the issue, so the cycle continues.

The EPIC Air Quality Fund breaks this cycle by supporting local groups and organizations in installing monitors and providing open data to communities that could benefit the most.

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2) Effective communication on air pollution’s impact: The Air Quality Life Index

Once communities have air pollution data, they must then understand how the level of pollution they breathe impacts them.

The AQLI uses a novel approach to communicate the risk of pollution in the most immediate and important term: life expectancy. Through the AQLI’s hyper-local data, users anywhere on Earth can zoom into their district and see how much longer they would live if policies were to reduce pollution. This information not only provides people with information about how the air they breathe impacts their life, but also underscores the importance of effective policies by illustrating the benefits of both past and proposed air quality regulations. It shows that air pollution is the world’s greatest external risk to human health. 

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3) Policies that work: Clean Air Markets

Once citizens call on leaders to reduce pollution, leaders must then balance cleaning the air with other priorities such as maintaining economic growth.

The Clean Air Markets is a pioneering effort to confront this challenge. In 2019, EPIC-India and the Indian state of Gujarat launched the world’s first emissions trading system for particulate pollution in the city of Surat. Since that time, the team has been working to expand clean air markets in India, and launched another particulate pollution market in Ahmedabad. The team is also expanding this work to include other pollutants. For example, they are working with officials in Maharashtra to form a sulfur dioxide market. The pilot scheme in Surat has shown to be successful, with pollution decreasing by about 20 percent with no significant increase in industry operating costs.

More on the Clean Air Markets…