Remarks by Ambassador Blake at “A Breath of Fresh Air: How Air Quality Affects Your Health”‎, Jakarta

Special welcome to our panelists today:
Dr. Andy Eka Sakya, Director General of BMKGMinistry of Environment and Forestry Assistant Deputy for Mobile Sources Air Pollution Control Dasrul Chaniago
Dr. Budi Haryanto, University of Indonesia
Dr. Frank Lee, Hong Kong Polytechnic
Achmed Safruddin (Pak Puput) Director of KPBB

A warm “Earth Day” welcome to all of the environmental engineering students from Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB); the Medical Faculty and students from the University of Indonesia; and the University of Atmadjaya.

Tomorrow, April 22, the United States will observe the 45th annual Earth Day, widely viewed as the anniversary of the birth of the modern U.S. environmental movement.

The idea for Earth Day grew out of public concern of growing environmental hazards:

Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring first documented how dangerous new chemicals in agriculture and pest control were affecting birds and probably human health;

Cities like LA were choked with air pollution and a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara set off alarm bells.

Those factors helped start America’s environmental movement and spurred a wave of new laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts that first regulated and established strict limits on the toxic chemicals and heavy metals that could be released into our air and water.

Today, accurate real-time information about air quality is available through Twitter and the internet, and a color-coded air quality index makes it easy to know the air quality in most U.S. cities.  Most nightly local TV Newscasts release publicly warnnings if air quality reaches dangerous levels.

Informed citizens pressure and sometimes even sue public officials to ensure that environmental regulations are strictly enforced.

While “green issues” like forest and wildlife conservation are often in the forefront of environmental discussions, government and public attention to “brown issues” like air pollution is critical to improving public health.

Events such as this serve an important role in increasing public awareness of the dangers of air pollution.

The U.S. has a strong commitment to environmental cooperation in Indonesia including robust collaboration between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry on a number of environmental issues, including on air pollution.

The U.S. EPA is actively engaged with DKI Jakarta through its “Breathe Easy Jakarta” air quality management partnership, where experts like Dr. Lee, who will speak after me, advise on ways to better understand Jakarta’s air pollution challenges.

The U.S. EPA collaborated with the Ministry of Environment on a 2013 study which showed that 60% of Jakarta’s population suffered from various air pollution-related health effects, including asthma, and coronary disease.

The study concluded that the total direct health cost of these illnesses was 38.5 trillion rupiah a year.

The primary cause of air pollution in Jakarta is transportation.  Vehicles emit a number of pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

Indonesia’s vehicle fleet is increasing dramatically, faster even than China, and fuels here have the highest sulfur content in the region.

Cleaner fuels and improved fuel efficiency standards will greatly help to clean up the air.

Speaking of cleaner air, I also want to welcome my on-stage companion, the BAM-1020 air quality meter, which measures a component of air pollution called PM 2.5-very small particulate matter.

According to the World Health Organization, particulate matter affects the health of more people than any other pollutant. Chronic exposure to these particles contributes to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer.

Particulate Matter is also a  major contributor to climate change, which is a long-term threat to the livelihoods and food security of all Indonesians, and to the rest of the world.

As part of the efforts of the United States government to highlight and combat air pollution and climate change, the Department of State is expanding air quality monitoring efforts overseas by installing air quality meters on our Embassies.

This Air Quality Meter will be a part of a network that will collect and report to the public real-time data on PM 2.5 through the internet and through Twitter.

We will share this data with the public and with our Indonesian government partners, and we hope that both regional and local data will be available sometime in 2016.

Indonesia faces difficult choices regarding fuel quality, fuel efficiency and allocating resources to monitoring, regulating and enforcing air pollution regulations.

However, investment in new technology and regulatory enforcement will ultimately cost less than the results of climate change and health problems caused by air pollution.  The U.S. and Indonesia are working together to counter climate change and address environmental challenges.  As Secretary Kerry said, “With Indonesia and the rest of the world pulling in the same direction, we can meet this challenge.”

On Earth Day, I ask you to think about the future you want and to join with us in becoming better informed about air quality in Jakarta and other cities in Indonesia

Together, we can make every day Earth Day.

As prepared.