Catalysing Clean Air: A Serious Concern for India & Beyond

February 9, 2023

By Anshuman Magazine


Air pollution, a direct contributor and a center-stage concern for global climate change discussion, can now be seen clearly in our daily lives—yesterday, as I stepped outside of my home, the heaviness in the air was quite evident and so it must be for everyone, especially those living in major metropolitan regions of our country.

Polluted air has become a threat to our lives and our economic growth—with reported labor income loss of $30-78 billion (equal to 0.3-0.9% of GDP) due to fatal illness from PM 2.5 exposure. According to the World Air Quality 2019 Report, India is among the top 5 countries in the world with a high weighted average 2.5 concentration levels. Is it impacting Indian businesses? Certainly yes, and the estimated cost is a huge 7 lakh crore (USD 95 billion) every year. The actual cost of air pollution manifests in different ways and goes on to include lower labour productivity, premature mortality, increased health expenses & more.

India Landscape, Present Day

With the onset of the winter season, air quality starts to dip and goes worse in some parts of the country, particularly north India, which experiences extremely high AQI. A report by the Health Effects Institute 2018 has projected a rise in the number of deaths caused annually by air pollution in India to 1.7 million in 2030. If these numbers are not alarming enough, the impact of air pollution on our day-to-day lives can also be gauged by the changes in lifestyle patterns, from the closing of schools to the incessant use of air purifiers and health supplements to counter health ill effects.

Government Actions for Combating Air Pollution

Our government has been working on multiple levels to combat air pollution and is now envisaging policy revisions with respect to ambient air quality standards with a strong focus on strengthening renewable energy infrastructure, promoting electric vehicles, and providing LPG cooking fuel to households across India.

NCAP (National Clean Air Programme) by the Indian government is a powerful step in the direction aimed at resolving the challenge of deteriorating ambient air quality in the country. The program has laid down a framework for cities to develop air quality management plans at a local level, providing guidelines for various sectors. It aims to reduce key air pollutants, PM 2.5 and PM 10 by 20-30% by 2024 through a 5-year action plan starting in 2017.

Further, initiatives like replacing fossil fuels with biofuels can reduce conventional & greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on unstable foreign suppliers—suggests a recent report by CII. National biofuels policy 2018 aims to blend 20% ethanol with petrol and 5% biodiesel with diesel. 20% ethanol blending will require 17 billion liters of ethanol by 2025. India has achieved around 10% ethanol blending across the country and is it produced as per quality standards provided by ethanol tenders from OMCs. Steps like incentivizing feedstock supply to biofuel companies & rewarding systems to discourage burning crop residues and dumping municipal solid waste in landfills can also help the government achieve its objectives and reduce fossil fuel dependence.

The Way Forward

While various steps have been taken to combat the deteriorating air quality in India and globally, the efficacy of programs like NCAP remains plagued by the lack of monitoring, inadequate financing, absence of compliance mechanisms and awareness of the urban-rural disparity in terms of air quality standards. That said, this is not yet the end of the road—we can accomplish the way forward with appropriate implementation, a strong compliance mechanism and the right will. Air quality improvement will be an ongoing process and need all stakeholders to come together and work towards a shared goal. With sufficient funding and capacity building, strong commitment & cost-effective strategy in place, air pollution can be controlled; many countries that have taken this path have already demonstrated this possibility. Besides the government, it is equally important for private organizations and individuals to work towards building a sustainable environment through green financing and undertaking initiatives that promote climate welfare.