Clean Air Catalyst: A Global Partnership for Accelerating Clean Air Solutions

Lead PI: Faye McNeill , Dr. Daniel M. Westervelt , Dr. Jacqueline M. Klopp
August 2020 - May 2025
Asia ; South America ; Africa
Project Type: Research Outreach Education

DESCRIPTION: Air pollution is cutting millions of peoples’ lives short, making millions sicker, and affecting agriculture, climate, ecosystems, and economies. Awareness of these impacts is growing, particularly in light of the current pandemic. Media coverage has increased, business is paying attention, and policymakers from city to national levels are engaged as never before. However, this growing demand for cleaner air is not accelerating meaningful action to limit the emissions or change the activities that contribute to pollution in cities around the world. Our review of the political economy of air quality identifies several factors that are impeding clean air progress; but the absence of clear, commonly held, and personally salient knowledge about the sources of pollution is by far the most significant obstacle. Without this knowledge, the communities most impacted by pollution cannot effectively build pressure for interventions and policies that cut emissions and hold polluters accountable. Our project seeks to change this dynamic by making the causes of pollution more visible, tangible, and personal, in order to build a vivid, shared understanding of the pathway to clean air. We propose to implement an innovative data to impact methodology to i) reduce PM and, as relevant, ozone in three Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) and ii) demonstrate a scalable approach that can be replicated at other sites and for other pollutants. The proposed work consists of three interconnected parts, or “modules,” each of which addresses a critical barrier to air pollution progress.

The first module focuses on source awareness. Our method focuses on deploying a participatory science approach that makes data about air pollution sources more relevant and personal, while lowering the barriers to reducing emissions, and fostering strategic collaborations across sectors and geographies to manage air quality. This approach shifts attention from how poor the air quality is to what is causing the pollution and what we can do to solve the problem. Our scientific approach also allows us to hone in on ways to control the sources of the most toxic PM.

The second module focuses on the root causes of health damaging pollution to identify interventions that are responsive to local context. We will use the Sabotage of Harms (SoH) approach outlined in Sparrow (2008) to examine the drivers of emissions and to identify one(s) that are most cost-effective to disrupt, in the given financial, administrative, and economic context. This approach, by design, identifies locally specific and responsive solutions that consider co-benefits and are often upstream of the conventional regulatory focus on emission controls. As interventions that affect broader drivers of emissions, they have the potential to reduce emissions beyond the particular regulatory jurisdiction.

The third module focuses on building the Minimal Winning Coalition (MWC) necessary to achieve the identified outcome. In most cases, under the MWC, we will bring together transboundary and public-private-community actors, who share a common purpose and shared strategy as well as new governance and financing approaches. This approach recognizes that the partners needed to implement a solution may look and function very differently from an advocacy coalition that raises awareness of the problem and demands action.

We propose to pilot this approach in four city-regions: two in India, one in Latin America and one in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, we have built a coalition of locally grounded global networks that can implement the pilots in other priority regions including Southeast Asia. Our data to impact methodology provides a replicable playbook we will use to train USAID leadership; in addition, we will provide training to USAID staff on the science of source attribution. These trainings aim to create air pollution programs that build scientific capacity as well as the ability to design and implement a global clean air program that delivers impact.


World Resources Institute




U.S. Agency for International Development


air quality air pollution pollutants pollution


Stewardship of the planet Sustainable living