India must step up efforts to cut smog
China, because of its rapid economic development, is perceived by many as ground zero for urban pollution, but it is cities in India that are among the worst hit
While the annual UN climate conference discusses how to speed up action to meet the goals of the Paris accord to combat global warming, the Indian government has urged Delhi and surrounding states to tackle dangerous levels of pollution that forced school closures, amid criticism of inaction by authorities. The heavy environmental price China has paid for its rapid economic rise easily leads to the assumption it is ground zero for urban pollution. But studies of the world’s worst places for air pollution, including one by the World Health Organisation, place more Indian cities high on the list.
Pollution readings have soared off the scale in some areas of the smog-bound capital territory, where the concentration of PM 2.5 – microscopic particles most dangerous to health – reached 700 micrograms per cubic metre last week, 28 times the WHO guidelines. As a result, many people familiar with both places describe Beijing as a paradise compared with Delhi. Outpatient departments and clinics are clogged with coughing, wheezing and breathless adults and children.
High vehicle emissions, dust from building sites and burning on farms contribute to the dirty air. But there needs to be a greater sense of urgency about reducing dependence on coal to meet energy needs. With the United States having dropped out of the Paris accord, it is up to China and India, as the world’s major polluters, to step up to the plate. India has pledged to slash emissions intensity per unit of production and produce 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. But its emissions are still expected to triple between 2005 and 2030. Emergency responses such as limiting car use and taxing trucks that pass through cities have had limited effect. There is a need for sustained measures such as upgrading the massive public transport network and banning the use of dirty industrial fuel. In the age of renewable energy, India seems geographically amenable to development of solar, wind and tidal power, given its long coastal line. By striving to exploit this potential to the full, it could make a significant contribution to the global battle to cut carbon emissions.