December 14, 2020

AQLI Expands With New Leadership

Ken Lee, who formerly led efforts at EPIC India, becomes the first dedicated director of the Air Quality Life Index.

As the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) continues to expand globally, Ken Lee will be the first, full-time director to lead the initiative since its creation by the Energy Policy Institute at the University Of Chicago (EPIC) in 2018. Lee’s arrival demonstrates the remarkable growth of the Index, which converts particulate air pollution into its impact on life expectancy, and its need for innovative direction as it advances past its formative years into a new stage of development and impact. Lee led EPIC’s team in India during a similar period of expansion.

“We are truly thrilled to have Ken move to a global role at EPIC to help shepherd what has until now been a passion project for myself and my colleagues, and is well past deserving of far more attention,” said Michael Greenstone the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and director of EPIC. “Over the last three years, Ken has been extraordinarily successful in growing our operations in India, breaking new ground and reaching new heights every step of the way. We look forward to working with Ken as he applies the same dedication and forward thinking to the AQLI.”

Since its launch, the AQLI has been used by people in every country globally. Fully available in three languages—English, Mandarin, and Hindi—and with country-specific analyses of top polluters available in five languages, the AQLI is having an impact around the world. International organizations have used the Index to support calls for improvements in air quality, including the World Bank and World Economic Forum. The AQLI has also been used in briefings with senior government leaders in China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and South Korea. It has received more than 1,300 mentions by the media, with coverage from about 300 media outlets reaching more than 1.1 billion people. Recognizing the effect that the AQLI has already had, and its potential to do more, Fast Company named the AQLI as a finalist for its 2019 World Changing Ideas Award. This major annual award elevates brave concepts and innovative solutions that make the world better based on their potential for impact.

The AQLI has had an especially great impact in India, largely due to Lee’s leadership. It has been cited twice in the Indian Parliament (once each in both houses) by parliamentarians advocating for changes to the country’s existing air pollution laws. Moreover, AQLI awareness events in Delhi have served as the backdrop for a Member of Parliament’s proposed amendment to the India Air Act, as well as the formation of a cross-party parliamentarian working group to find common ground to tackle air pollution. Additionally, the AQLI has been incorporated as a resource in tool kits for students in hundreds of schools in the state of Maharashtra.

“Air pollution poses the greatest known risk to human health. Yet in many parts of the world, it is a problem that has not been fully recognized,” said Lee. “We need better ways of raising awareness about the health impacts of air pollution. The AQLI offers an exciting, groundbreaking approach to quantifying and communicating these impacts at the local level, across the world. I believe there is an enormous opportunity to raise the global demand for clean air. If we can express this idea effectively—that air pollution can shorten life expectancies—then we will open pathways for the introduction of public policies that can solve this problem.”

Lee brings an impressive track record of leading large-scale energy projects and securing vital partnerships to his new role at AQLI, having worked extensively at the intersection of development, energy, and environmental economics. Alongside his AQLI work with EPIC-India, Lee helped launch the Odisha Star Rating Program, a transparency initiative to inform the public about the environmental performance of industrial plants in the state of Odisha, and oversaw the Bengaluru Innovation Challenge, a competition to crowdsource innovative ideas to solve Bengaluru’s energy and environmental problems. In addition, Lee launched a number of microeconomic research projects, including randomized experiments to understand the effects of information on the demand for clean air in Delhi.

Prior to his appointment at EPIC-India, Lee was a post-doctoral research fellow at the Energy Institute at Haas and the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA). As a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, he spearheaded a research partnership with Kenya’s Rural Electrification Authority to design and successfully execute one of the first randomized evaluations of electricity grid infrastructure in Africa—a project that connected nearly 500 rural households to the grid for the first time. Lee holds a PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics from UC Berkeley and an MIA from Columbia University.