What India can learn from others to beat air pollution

What India can learn from others to beat air pollution

The sun is vaguely seen behind the Signature Bridge amid heavy smog, in New Delhi, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.. (PTI Photo)

As severe air pollution in North India has become an annual affair, the country could breathe easy by emulating policy interventions and technology employed by nations which have effectively dealt with the problem of critical air quality.

Faced with the hazard of deteriorating air composition, many countries like China have over the years adapted to technology and strategies to counter the crisis, including energy infrastructure optimisation, coal-fired pollution control, and emission controls.

An interesting step in that direction is a vertical forest being planted in Nanjing, eastern China, designed to absorb 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and produce about 60 kg of oxygen per day.

Another intervention in the form of an experimental over-100-metres-high ‘smog tower’ in northern China has brought noticeable improvement in air quality, according to researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who monitored the project.

Bhavik Bakshi, Professor at The Ohio State University in the US, pointed out several interventions by other countries to mitigate pollution which India can experiment with.

“These include regulations that limit the amount of pollution that point sources such as industries can emit, and requirement of technology in non-point sources like catalytic converters in cars,” Bakshi told PTI in an email.

Point sources are single-source pollutants, such as factories and refineries, while non-point sources are harder to identify and address such as construction sites, and forest lands.

“In addition, pollution trading schemes have also been implemented where polluters need to buy permits to pollute. If they clean up their process, they can have extra permits that can be sold to entities who wish to pollute,” he said.

China was home to some of the world’s most polluted cities, but many states in the Communist country have taken control of the situation over the years.

“Beijing has achieved impressive air quality improvements in a short amount of time,” Techen Tsering, Director of the Asia Pacific Regional Office, UN Environment, said in June.

“It is a good example of how a large city in a developing country can balance environmental protection and economic growth,” Tsering said in a statement.

In 1998, air pollution in Beijing was dominated by coal-combustion and motor vehicles.Over the next 15 years Beijing implemented a series of measures focused on energy infrastructure optimisation, coal-fired pollution control, and emission controls.

By 2013, levels of air pollutants fell and some pollutants, like carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxides, met the national standard, according to a UN Environment Programme report.

“Understanding Beijing’s air pollution story is crucial for any nation, district or municipality that wishes to follow a similar path,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment, in a statement.

“China is certainly an interesting example. They have a unique ability to shut down industries, as they did before the Beijing Olympics," Bakshi said.

While China's successful efforts to combat air pollution are a result of a sustained and long-term efforts, many other cities around the world have experimented effectively with short-term measures to battle air pollution.

Paris, for example, bans cars in many historic central districts on weekends, and similar to Delhi imposes odd-even bans on vehicles, makes public transport free during polluting events and encourages car-bike-sharing programmes.

Petrol and diesel-fuelled cars and motorcycles will be banned from the city of Amsterdam from 2030.

Copenhagen prioritises bikes over cars and now has more cycles than people.

The Danish capital plans to become carbon neutral by 2025.

According to UN Environment, Jambi City in Indonesia has approved an emissions mitigation plan that includes reducing and capturing methane from waste, and local regulations that ban waste burning and promote planting trees.

Zurich has capped the number of parking spaces in the city, only allows a certain number of cars to ply at any point of time, and is building more car-free areas and tram lines.

Outdoor air pollution is among the most significant environmental threats to human health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), bad air contributed to 3.7 million premature deaths each year.

Urbanisation, transportation, industrialisation, power-generation, and agricultural activities are the key drivers of air pollution through the release of toxic emissions.

Bakshi says there is no doubt that technology can help reduce pollution in India.

“It can be most effective for point sources of pollution such as power plants and industry. It can also be used to control emissions from some non-point sources such as automobiles,” Bakshi told PTI.

However, a lot of pollution seems to come from non-point sources such as burning of stubble in farms and burning of solid waste.

“Controlling pollution from such sources will require regulation, or a change in culture that looks down upon such activities and discourages the perpetrators,” he said.

For India, Bakshi believes, policies requiring use of technologies for controlling pollution from point sources can work.

“Emissions trading schemes could also work, but they would require excellent government coordination and strict enforcement of regulations,” he said, adding that eventually, it is a matter a political will and public pressure.

“The solution will be found only if these two things are present,” he emphasised.

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