Fighting India’s Chronic Air Pollution Crisis

Indian cities, especially in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) are in the middle of an air pollution emergency. Air pollution has spiked to over the severe 500 mark for deadly fine particles and many more stations showing severe health risks on the Air Quality Index. Citizens are taking to the streets and demanding action to fight air pollution, including at the iconic India Gate this weekend. In the face of this crisis, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are bringing together preeminent experts in a special dialogue aimed to drive action toward solving this serious public health threat in New Delhi next week.

A 2018 Lancet Commission study found that outdoor (ambient) air pollution causes a staggering 670,000 deaths each year in India. Extremely high levels of dangerous air pollution have become the norm around this time of the year across northern India. With worsening air quality, authorities are enacting short term measures to ensure air quality doesn’t persist at emergency levels.

National Clean Air Program and City Action

To reduce air pollution over the long term, the national government has launched a National Clean Air Program (NCAP), which aims to reduce particulate matter (PM) levels by 30 percent in five years. Targeting 122 cities, the NCAP provides a roadmap to prevent, control, and reduce air pollution with specific targets. It calls upon states and cities to take urgent and lasting action to reduce emissions that contribute to air pollution and builds upon India’s international commitments for climate change.

Under the NCAP, India’s cities have created city-level action plans. These plans address various planned mitigation measures aimed at the reduction of ambient particulate matter concentrations by 20-30% by 2024. These city-level plans aim to work in close consultation with broader national interventions that have crucial implications for the sources of emissions in cities.

For instance, Delhi has combined local action on conversion of fossil-fuel-fired industrial boilers to cleaner Piped Natural Gas (PNG) fueled sources, along with national action on transport – leapfrogging from BS IV to BS VI fuel and improve vehicular emission standards. Similarly, the city of Ahmedabad, along with at least 10 other large cities, has augmented its city bus fleet with 50 electric buses and will introduce 300 more this year. Telangana and 16 other India states already have state level electric vehicle policies in the pipeline, which aim to reduce localized urban emissions from the transport sector. Yet, much more action in needed to combat the air pollution crisis.

Regional Dialogue on Air Pollution

TERI and NRDC are organizing a “Regional Dialogue on Air Pollution” on 13th November 2019 to discuss ways in which national, state, and city-level mitigation actions can be strengthened and to identify institutional mechanisms to enhance cooperation. The dialogue will bring together individuals from key organizations, including government officials, academics and civil society to discuss actions taken to fight air pollution, recognize gaps, identify opportunities, and prioritize actions to enable more comprehensive solutions to aid India’s ongoing efforts to improve its air quality. The dialogue is precursor to discussions at the World Sustainable Development Summit in New Delhi in January 2020.  

Special remarks by government officials include:

  • Mr. C K Mishra, Secretary, MoEFCC
  • Mr. Anil Srivastava, Mission Director, NITI Aayog
  • Mr. Jasmine Shah, Vice-Chairperson, Delhi Dialogue Commission

Key experts include:

  • Dr. Ajay Mathur, Director General, TERI
  • Mr. Mitch Bernard, Interim President and General Counsel, NRDC
  • Dr. Arvind Kumar, Head of Doctors for Clean Air
  • Dr. Dileep Mavlankar, Director, IIPHG
  • Mr. Kartikeya V Sarabhai, Director, CEE
  • Mr. Polash Mukerjee, Lead Air Pollution Consultant, NRDC
  • Dr. Sumit Sharma, Director of Earth Science and Climate Change Division, TERI
  • Ms. Anjali Jaiswal, Senior Director, NRDC

While Delhi’s air pollution problems receive a large share of media attention, many Indian cities are experience degraded air quality. These cities are increasingly at the forefront of action to address the problem and protect public health. Achieving lasting improvements in air quality will require a coordinated countrywide effort. Collaboration and coordination across government levels is crucial. Implementation of judicial orders, and air pollution management plans developed by empowered committees will also be key. In order to meet this serious challenge, air quality improvement must remain a sustained priority for Indian policymakers, business leaders, and a concerned public.