On World Environment Day the UN calls for a global approach to improve air quality

Green Transition 4 June 2019 Shari Beth Libicki, PhD

Air quality is impacting everyday life in a way that it never has before, particularly for urban dwellers. The UN estimates that the vast majority of the world – 6.76 billion people – lives with excessive air pollution, and that 1 in 9 lives are lost to related factors. We can do better. As the UN exhorts: we can’t stop breathing, but we can do something about the quality of our air.

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The United Nations (UN) has designated 5 June as World Environment Day 2019. The official host country this year is China. The environmental challenge is air quality, with the UN calling for a global approach to beat air pollution.

Ramboll has a long history of delivering innovative, sustainable solutions to improve air quality and alleviate the burden on future generations. On World Environment day, we shine a light on some of our landmark work in this area – from regional to hyperlocal. This is how we beat air pollution. 

Offshore wind reducing air pollution in China

This year’s World Environment Day host country faces some of the world’s most serious air quality challenges. Accelerating wind power is one of the ways China is tackling this problem. In Guangdong province alone, there are ambitious plans to install 15 to 20 GW of offshore wind power capacity. To put this in perspective, there is currently less than 20 GW of wind power capacity installed throughout all of Europe. 

One of the wealthiest and most populous provinces in China, Guangdong is seeing an increasing demand for energy and reduced urban air pollution. Both demands can be met with wind energy, which is now cost-competitive with coal and other fossil fuels. Project developer SPIC Guangdong Offshore Wind Power Ltd. has secured permits for the installation of 3.2 GW – enough to supply three million households with power.

SPIC selected Ramboll as the lead designer for this project based on our highly specialised expertise and proven record of timely delivery. Ramboll has designed more than 60% of all offshore wind turbine foundations in the world and has worked with offshore wind in China since 2004. The design and fabrication of the first two foundations (of an expected 500) took less than five months – a record-breaking timeline. These foundations are not only the largest in the world, they are also installed at an ocean depth of 37 metres, the deepest ocean installation for wind turbines in China to date.

Empowering African cities to combat air pollution

Transportation emissions are growing significantly in Africa, driven by urban sprawl, rapid motorisation and low levels of institutional capacity to manage traffic and its impacts. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that 90% of urban air pollution in developing countries is attributable to vehicle emissions. The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates that 176,000 deaths per year in Africa are due to outdoor air pollution.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has a 10-year strategy to facilitate Africa’s gradual transition to ‘green growth’ that protects livelihoods and promotes sustainable economic development. As part of this strategy, AfDB sought to address air quality issues by appointing Ramboll to advise governments, city authorities and policymakers on effective ways to collect, store and analyse data and map vehicle emissions.

We identified an air pollution baseline in pilot areas of each studied city, highlighting the impact of vehicle traffic on air quality. Our recommendations to achieve reduced air pollution were provided to each city and presented at the UN climate change conference COP24 in Katowice in December 2018.

Air quality drives major freeway expansion

The Long Beach Freeway in southern California, US, is a vital transportation artery, linking the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to major distribution centers and intermodal rail facilities. With congestion and safety issues plaguing the roadway over the last 20 years, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority enlisted Ramboll as a consultant to assess the air quality, health risk and greenhouse gas impacts of alternatives that will improve air quality, mobility, congestion and safety.

Based in part on Ramboll’s analyses, these alternatives include novel elements such as incentive programs for near-zero and zero emission trucks and community health benefits (including local health care projects, such as mobile asthma vans, and filtration units for near-freeway schools and care centers). Final environmental assessments of these alternatives are currently underway. 

Enabling hyperlocal air quality improvement

In early April 2019, Ramboll client Groundwork Richmond installed the first of about 100 hyperlocal air quality monitors to be installed throughout California’s cities of Richmond and neighboring San Pablo. The $500,000 micro-sensor project will generate monitoring data on a neighborhood, or even a block-by-block basis. Ramboll’s air quality experts, through our innovative SHAIR program, will help Groundwork interpret the data generated by these monitors to inform actionable air quality improvement plans.

The scene of a World War II boom economy that later went bust, Richmond is the site of a refinery, a port and two major interstate highways. Using innovative statistical and physical modeling, the SHAIR team will help to determine whether and to what degree these sources may be affecting the local air quality and help the community to develop actionable plans for improvements.

Developed by Ramboll experts, SHAIR is a holistic air quality modeling platform that incorporates air quality data from a network of citywide sensors, delivering results in real time throughout the day. SHAIR unlocks meaningful insight from sensor deployments to map air quality across a city and develop an understanding of sources contributing to air pollution. SHAIR empowers regulators and residents to make informed decisions – whether that means a planning decision to increase filtration requirements on new developments in certain high-pollution areas of the city or taking a different bike route to work.

SHAIR is a product of Ramboll’s Innovation Accelerator program, which encourages our employees to explore and consider new concepts, methods and technologies that deliver more value, and improve our client solutions and the way we work.

Improving air quality to improve learning

With the latest research revealing a direct link between indoor air quality and classroom concentration levels, Ramboll, in partnership with Scottish Futures Trust (SFT), is applying Danish building design principles to create a sustainable learning environment at Queensferry High School in Edinburgh, UK. Collaborating with the school, architect and SFT, Ramboll is designing a new building that features state-of-the-art ventilation, heating and lighting.

Upon the building’s completion (slated for 2020) a three-year post occupancy evaluation will be undertaken. If real-life performance matches expected outcomes, Queensferry High School will be a model for future school renovations and rebuilds.

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