The UB Post interviewed Robyn Garner, the communications and marketing manager at Clean Air Asia, an international NGO that leads the global mission for better air quality and healthier, more livable cities in Asia. Garner has more than 20 years’ communications experience.
She worked for 12 years as a print journalist and sub-editor in the Australian media, and for the past 13 years has been working in Asia (Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines) as a communications specialist in the international development sector with such organizations as UN agencies, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Pact, The Asia Foundation, and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Journalism) degree from the University of Queensland and a Master of Social Science (International Development) degree from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia.
What was the objective of the workshop for media on effective communication of air quality management organized by Clean Air Asia in cooperation with the Mongolian Ministry of Environment and Tourism held in December in Ulaanbaatar?
In the past year, our Integrated Programme for Better Air Quality in Asia (IBAQ Programme) has worked closely with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and Ulaanbaatar city authorities in the development of long-term air pollution mitigation strategies, and helped to facilitate the development of the Action Plan and National Action Program on Reducing Air Pollution following consultations with decision-makers, policymakers and air quality management stakeholders in Mongolia. In collaboration with the Asia Center for Air Pollution Research, training was also provided for local emissions inventory (EI) compilers and relevant agencies in tandem with the development of a guidance document on undertaking a national EI system in Mongolia.
Clean Air Asia believes that the media is an important partner in the fight against air pollution, and that it is vital to engage with, and empower, Mongolia’s media to ensure there is a sufficient level of knowledge and informed analysis to report accurately and impartially on the issues. Air pollution is neither a one-dimensional nor partisan issue; it’s complex and multifaceted, involving multiple sources and having a broad range of impacts. Therefore, it’s important for journalists to reflect the full depth of the problem as better-informed reporting will mean more knowledgeable and empowered citizens and will result in improved scrutiny of government air pollution policies and programs.
The recent “Effective Communication of Air Quality Management for Media” workshop was targeted at print, broadcast and digital journalists from Ulaanbaatar and from other emerging air pollution hotspots such as Darkhan and Erdenet, and the expanding mining areas in Umnugovi Province.
We aimed to provide knowledge of which Mongolian government ministries and agencies were responsible for different aspects of air quality management; knowledge of government policies on air quality management; knowledge of different air pollution source sectors; knowledge of how to report on air quality data; and knowledge of the role civil society organizations can play in addressing air quality issues.
We also provided information on the impacts of air pollution on the economy and social and health services, such as hospitals; who was being affected and how; those most at risk, such as children, the elderly and people living in ger districts; the mitigation actions that are being taken or can be taken to reduce pollution; local and national government policies on air pollution; and cleaner alternatives such as cleaner sources of energy and more sustainable transport.
What is air quality communication and how does it influence positive changes among the public and in society?
Air quality communication involves the use of data to inform the public and key stakeholders about air pollution issues. It involves understanding the status of air quality, emission sources, and the impacts on society, human health, the environment, and the economy.
Communication is an essential part of air quality management because the adoption of air pollution control measures will only be effective if the relevance and impact are conveyed to policymakers and to those who will be affected by interventions.
The aim of air quality communication is to raise awareness about air pollution, to change people’s attitudes, to change people’s behavior, to influence positive changes in policy, and to avoid inconsistencies in data interpretation.
It’s important that the public is provided with accurate information to enable them to assess to what extent they are affected by poor air quality, the sources of air pollution, their own contributions to air pollution, and what needs to be done at different levels to rectify the situation.
What obstacles are preventing assistance in improving air quality in Ulaanbaatar?
Improving the air quality in Ulaanbaatar, or in any other city for that matter, requires a set of policies and programs that should be founded on the knowledge of which emission sources to target first and the implications of the local setting, such as geographic and climatic conditions, prior to actual implementation. The government is well aware of the major emission sources in the country – namely the energy industry and residential heating and cooking – and acknowledges the additional challenges given Mongolia’s geographic location and meteorological conditions. However, other information such as the health, environmental and climate impacts are not necessarily common knowledge. This can likely hinder the public’s full understanding of their role in the solution. The full cooperation of all stakeholders is as important as the solution itself.
A lot of measures to reduce air pollution in Ulaanbaatar have been undertaken by Mongolian governments in the past two decades; unfortunately, we have not seen better outcomes from these efforts. Is that the result of policy failure or other issues? What do you think about this?
The solutions implemented in Ulaanbaatar may not necessarily be considered a failure, but should point to the fact that the city is at a disadvantage, due to its geography and climate, and therefore requires double the effort in developing more creative solutions.
The Mongolian government should be recognized for its effort to manage air quality issues in the country throughout the years. As mentioned earlier, addressing air pollution may not be as simple as instituting national standards or regulating the use of vehicles within the city. Solutions should be complementary; that is, applied at regional, national and local levels, be socially inclusive, still support economic growth, cover all concerned sectors, and be integrated.
For instance, the national government should continue to pursue international cooperation with East Asian countries to address transboundary pollution, while local governments should complement national policies and programs with local measures such as promoting energy-efficient heating and cooking technologies to encourage uptake by citizens, and to incorporate solutions in their development plans while engaging the support of all stakeholders to help secure resources.
Ensuring that the measures are still relevant in the long term is also crucial, and a systematic review of its implementation should be conducted to ascertain its effectiveness. This way, the government will be guided in prioritizing its resources. Transparency is also a key as this can help improve institutional coordination and certain management processes.
Is Clean Air Asia interested in implementing a project that will help reduce air pollution in Ulaanbaatar?
There is an ongoing cooperation between Clean Air Asia and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism supported by IBAQ Programme implementation. Notable achievements such as drafting the action plan of the National Action Program on Reducing Air Pollution and EI capacity building sets the momentum for institutionalizing air quality management across sectors. Clean Air Asia sees the opportunity to work in other areas or sectors to contribute to the goal of air pollution reduction. This includes working directly with cities to promote the Guidance Framework for Better Air Quality in Asian Cities which serves as a guide for cities and countries to achieve their mutual goal on air quality improvement. Clean Air Asia also continues to forge partnerships with capacity building institutions in the country to sustain the delivery of fundamental air quality management courses. Air quality communication in Ulaanbaatar is also one aspect that still has potential for improvement, and which Clean Air Asia is keen to work on.