High levels of air pollution pose an urgent social and public health challenge in many Asian regions. This study evaluates the role of key factors that determined the changes in emission levels in China, India and Japan over the past 25 years. While emissions of air pollutants have been declining in Japan since the 1990s, China and India have experienced a rapid growth in pollution levels in recent years. Around 2005, control measures for sulfur emissions started to deliver expected reductions in China, followed by cuts in nitrogen oxides ten years later. Despite recent policy interventions, growing emission trends in India persist. A decomposition analysis of emission-driving factors indicates that emission levels would have been at least two-times higher without the improvements in energy intensity and efficiency, combined with end-of-pipe measures. Due to the continuous reliance on fossil fuels, the abatement effect of a cleaner fuel mix was in most cases significantly smaller than other factors. A reassessment of emission projections developed in the past suggests a decisive impact of energy and environmental policies. It is expected that targeted legislative instruments will play a dominant role in achieving future air-quality goals in Asia.
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