Sustainable Jersey Travels to South Korea for Clean Air

September 21, 2016

Sharing expertise and experience to support Clean Air Asia pilot certification program

I left New Jersey on Aug. 25 with my colleague, Renee Haider, en route for South Korea. Sustainable Jersey was invited to participate in the Clean Air for Cities conference in Busan, South Korea as part of our work supporting the creation of a Cities Clean Air Partnership certification program for cities in Southeast Asia.

SK1With more than 1,200 participants from around the world representing governments, the private sector, academia and civil society, it was a great forum to share the Sustainable Jersey experience.

Air pollution now accounts for more than seven million premature deaths globally each year. Given the magnitude of the health impacts, there is a pressing call for action by the international community.

Solutions to air pollution are particularly important at the city level, where the impacts are directly felt and where the main sources of pollution are often found. Recognizing the scale and urgency of the issue, the two leading international air-quality meetings — the 17th World Clean Air Congress and the ninth Better Air Quality Conference — decided to meet jointly in a landmark event themed “Clean Air for Cities – Perspectives and Solutions.”

This is not the first time Sustainable Jersey has shared the program internationally. Working with U.S. EPA, Sustainable Jersey staff visited cities in Taiwan in 2011 and 2012 on exchange trips and then hosted the Minister of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration and his delegation in New Jersey.

U.S. EPA collaborates with environmental authorities and organizations around the world to share expertise to help build environmental protection capacity in those regions. Since environmental pollution can be transported in air, water and many other means, U.S. EPA’s collaboration with these international partners helps protect the global commons and the United States domestic environment and public health.

SK2In South Korea, Randall Solomon and Renee Haider participate in discussion about the value of different certification models with representatives of Clean Air Asia and various Southeast Asian cities.

This past June, the staff at Sustainable Jersey met with the leadership of Clean Air Asia to provide an overview of how our certification program works and why it has been successful in New Jersey.

Clean Air Asia is an international non-governmental organization that leads the regional mission for better air quality and healthier, more livable cities in Asia; and is charged with implementing the new air quality certification program for Asian cities. This group aims to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in 1,000+ cities in Asia through policy and programs that cover air quality, transport and industrial emissions and energy use.

SK3In South Korea, members of Clean Air Asia Advisory Group

To show the impressive work being done at the local level in New Jersey, we arranged meetings for the Clean Air Asia staff in Camden County with Sustainable Jersey partners Chris Waldron who is the Camden County Sustainability Director, Ed Cohen of the Tri-County Regional Hub, Jessica Franzini of NJ Tree Foundation and Sarah Bryant of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership.

Kathmandu, Malang and Baguio face challenges similar to New Jersey municipalities

At the conference in South Korea, we participated in a session to introduce and build support for the concept of certification and the use of common indicators to measure a city’s progress in taking action to address clean air. Sustainable Jersey was presented as a certification program that could serve as a model for the program in Asia.

From our discussion, I found that the problems of local government, for example in the City of Malang, Indonesia, Kathmandu, Nepal and the City of Baguio, Philippines, are not unlike what we find in the municipalities we work with in New Jersey. Basically, the staff are tasked with developing solutions to daunting environmental problems that are affecting their communities, with limited resources and capacity. They need guidance, resources and creative solutions. Our colleagues in Asian cities felt that they would benefit from the support and guidance of a certification program like Sustainable Jersey.

SK4Renee Haider with university students who provided a tour of the city

Renee Haider, Sustainable Jersey’s associate director, joined me on the trip to South Korea and participated as a panel and committee member.

“In making my presentation and in discussions afterward, I observed that a lot of countries don’t have the robust citizen engagement piece of the puzzle,” she said. “Their work is government driven and they want to develop the community participation part. Sustainable Jersey is lucky to have green teams driving the work at the local level and helping to move government to make the necessary changes. The Sustainable Jersey program also offers transparency since each municipality can see what the other certified towns have achieved because documentation is on the website. It helps when you can share with the elected officials what the next town over got done, and how they did it.”

Exploring Busan, South Korea’s Second Largest City

In addition to meetings and seminars, we got out of the hotel to explore our environs. Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, is a major international port and the country’s cultural hub. It is a technology and commerce center as well as a resort town, with lively beaches and coast against mountainous terrain.

SK5View of Busan from Bugaksan Mountain

We took a hike up the mountain known as Bugaksan overlooking the city. In addition to stunning views and strange flora and fauna, we passed through the ruins of one of the largest mountain fortresses in Korea and wove in and out of old watchtowers and fortified gates. After ten miles of hiking along the old fortress wall, we passed through the ancient Bemosa Temple complex that afforded us views of old Buddhist temples shrouded in mist and nestled in the mountainside.

We bridged the language barrier by looking confused. To get help, all we needed to do was pause on the street and look befuddled (it came naturally). Invariably someone would materialize and offer directions, or a ride or walk us to our next destination.

Big picture–we brought back with us a renewed sense of purpose that we are on the right track in New Jersey with the Sustainable Jersey program. The program has been singled out nationally and internationally as a powerful model for change. In addition, we will share what we learned about air-quality science, current issues, trends and policies that we can incorporate into the Sustainable Jersey certification program. We look forward to continuing to work with Clean Air Asia to develop solutions for cleaner air and livable cities.

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Randall Solomon has 20 years of experience working in government, academia, and the non-profit sector. He is one of the principals that founded and directs the Sustainable Jersey Certification program and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog.