India needs a policy to curb air pollution
For decades, pollution and its harmful effects on people’s health, the environment, and the planet have been neglected both by Governments and the...
For decades, pollution and its harmful effects on people’s health, the environment, and the planet have been neglected both by Governments and the international development agenda. Yet, air pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today. Its implications are many.
A report of the Lancet Commission on pollution and health states that around 19 lakh people die prematurely every year from diseases caused by outdoor and indoor air pollution.
A study by the Indian Journal of Pediatrics shows that the lungs of children who grow up in polluted environments like Delhi are 10% smaller compared to the lungs of children who grow up in the U.S. This is nothing short of a public health emergency. What is needed, therefore, is a comprehensive policy to curb pollution.
Air pollution is causing about 1.1 million people to die prematurely each year in India mainly because of particulate matter which increases cardiac diseases.
Reasons behind India’s failure to curb the issue
- PIL is the main tool in the hands of people to demand environment conservation but this tool lacks enforcement
- Population density and urbanisation
- This imposes immense pressure upon public transport leading to excessive use of private vehicles congestion on road more pollution.
- Developing nations like India are often indisposed to invest legally, financially and politically in measures that can safeguard the environment because they fear those could halt economic progress.USA; European countries can afford economic losses.
- These developed countries are using capital intensive technologies to reduce pollution and emission of GHGs where India can’t afford to invest much on pollution when India has other pressing issues such as poverty, health issues, need to develop fast to reap demographic dividend.
- China is making massive hydroelectric dams such as three gorges dams, largest ever dam on Brahmaputra river, etc, which provide pollution free electricity whereas India continues to depend on thermal energy for its energy demand at a great extent.
- The manufacturing and industrial growth is coming down in these developed countries including China whereas, it’s comparatively increasing in India.
- At the heart of the problem of pollution are carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. About 75% of all greenhouse gas emissions are CO2 emissions produced through burning fossil fuels — oil, coal and natural gas — to generate energy.
- Since the early 2000s, carbon emissions have increased because of high growth in the Indian economy.
- In 2014, India’s total carbon emissions were more than three times the levels in 1990, as per World Bank data.
- This is because of India’s heavy dependence on fossil fuels and a dramatically low level of energy efficiency.
Effects of air pollution
- In 2015, diseases caused by air, water & soil pollution were responsible for 9 million premature deaths, i.e. 16% of all global deaths. Exposures to contaminated air, water and soil kill more people than smoking, hunger, natural disasters, war, AIDS, or malaria.
- Pollution disproportionately kills the poor and the vulnerable.
- Children are at high risk of pollution-related disease, as exposures to even small amounts of certain chemicals in utero and in early infancy can result in disease, life-long disability and death.
- Almost all exposures to pollution are involuntary and represent a massive global injustice.
Pollution is costly
- The costs attributed to pollution-related diseases will increase as researchers discover more associations between pollution & disease.
- Pollution-related diseases reduce GDP in low- to middle-income countries by up to 2% per year.
The nature of pollution is changing
- Significant investments in improving access to safe water and sanitation have greatly reduced water pollution’s impact.
- However, modern forms of pollution from industry and transport are at a scale never seen before. These include outdoor air, chemical and soil pollution, and exposures in the workplace.
Delhi air pollution problem
- The national capital Delhi has witnessed heavy pollution crisis due to various reasons, mainly from the burning of agricultural wastes. It has been reported that air pollution levels remained alarmingly high, with a blanket of smog enveloping the city all way. It has posed serious threat on human lives in and around the national capital; hence it needs to be addressed with serious approach.
- Farmers stop burning crop waste in the neighbouring states and problems created by urbanisation are considered as main causes for increased air pollution in national capital.
- Similarly the air quality in Delhi and other northern cities is under severe stress also owing to factors linked to urbanisation
- Hence the central and the concerned state governments need to adopt a two-pronged approach, i.e. to make policy changes in helping farmers to stop burning crop waste and also to tackle problems created by urbanisation.
- Every measure to curb the release of pollutants is important since the weather pattern in the post-monsoon months causes smog to persist and creates huge pollution.
- There has to be strong political will to implement a time-bound programme that will stop the burning of crop residues as well as to tackle the problems of urbanisation.
- Governments must come up with policies in helping disposal of agricultural wastes.
- Government must come up with policies like converting paddy straw into livestock feed, compost, raw material for power generation, biofuel production etc.
- State government’s support is vital for straw to be used as fodder, and farmers should be assisted with supplemental stocks of urea and molasses, green fodder and legume waste.
- Smoke-generating brick kilns around the national capital need to be cleaned up through a state-guided modernisation programme, since they become active during the period when the weather is unhelpful.
- It is also equally important to pave all roads well to curb dust, and show zero tolerance to civic agencies leaving exposed mud after executing projects.
- Government should take other various kinds of initiatives like developing modern public transport facilities, encouraging to use public modes of transport etc, which will helps in curbing pollution.
How can this crisis be solved?
- Air pollution and climate change are closely linked and share common solutions.
- Fossil fuel combustion in higher-income countries and the burning of biomass in lower-income countries accounts for 85% of airborne particulate pollution and is a major source of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that drive climate change.
Remodel the energy mix
- Emissions can be curbed only if people are persuaded to move away from fossil fuels and adopt greener forms of energy.
- A part of the carbon revenue thus generated can be used for a systemic overhaul of the energy mix, which, to a large extent, would address the pressing problem of environmental degradation.
- The Indian economy’s energy mix needs to be remodelled through investments in clean renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and low-emissions bioenergy,
- Raise the level of energy efficiency through investments in building retrofits, grid upgrades, and industrial efficiency.
- Carbon tax can be a key policy instrument in helping the country meets the challenges posed by Air pollution.
- There is, however, a problem with carbon tax. It’s regressive in nature — it affects the poor more than the rich.
- What is the way out?
Tax and dividend’ policy
- According to which the revenue thus generated is distributed equally across its citizens and as a result, the poor are more than compensated for the loss, since in absolute amounts the rich pay more carbon tax than the poor.
- Such a policy of cash transfer, which might work in the West, however, has a problem in the Indian context.
- Instead of a cash transfer, the other part of the carbon revenue can be used for an in-kind transfer of free electricity to the population that contributes less carbon than the economy average, and universal travel passes to compensate for the rise in transport costs and to encourage the use of green public transport.
- Such a policy justly addresses the widening schism between Bharat, which bears the climate impact burden, and India, which is imposing that burden because of its lifestyle choices.
- The level of carbon tax required for this policy to come into effect is Rs. 2,818 per metric tonne of CO2. It will be levied upstream, namely, at ports, mine-heads, and so on. While the prices of almost all the commodities will rise, the highest rise in price will be in fuel and energy since the carbon content is the highest in this category.
- Carbon Tax policy not only curbs emissions but also delivers on providing more employment since the employment elasticity in greener forms of energy is higher than those in fossil fuel-based energy.
- Higher prices of commodities according to their carbon content will induce households, including the rich, to look for greener substitutes.
- Availability of free energy also addresses the issue of stealing of electricity, since there will be no incentive left for those who steal. In India, even in 2014, the value of electricity stolen through corrupt means amounts to about 0.8% of GDP.
- Policy also will give more health benefits as a significant part of more than 3% of India’s GDP currently spent on pollution-induced diseases will surely come down.
- Promote use of electric vehicles.
- Promote use of solar energy, because so many industrial sites and households uses generators which run on petrol or diesel.
- Investment in R&D for efficient batteries as storage is one of the major problem in solar technologies.
- Investment in petrol engines and diesel engine development programme so that we can produce efficient engine which expel only less amount of carbon and other toxic elements. Partial combustion is one of the reasons for excess carbon from vehicles.
- Promote vehicles on bio diesel.
- Promote use of public transport, as most of the people use cars even if there is only one person in it. Curb the passage of heavy vehicles or SUVs into the cities during peak time.
- Promote plantation of trees which are highly productive and produces more oxygen compared to other trees.
- Reduce the usage of diesel vehicles and promote eco friendly vehicles. vehicles run on hydrogen will be the future vehicle.
- Awareness programmes, halt polluting industries on the periphery of cities.
- Air pollution control is not task of government alone citizens are equally responsible for reducing pollution by complying government directives and it is their fundamental duty also.
Reducing pollution presents a powerful opportunity to save lives and grow economies. Better way to curb pollution is to tax carbon.
Accelerating the switch to cleaner sources of energy will reduce air pollution and improve human and planetary health. Government also needs to integrate pollution challenges and control strategies into planning processes. Collaborate on solving pollution with development agencies. Design and implement programs that reduce pollution, and save lives.
By Gudipati Rajendera Kumar