June 06, 2019, New Delhi: Air Pollution has gained global significance and attention. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has chosen it as the theme for this year’s World Environment Day on June 5th, with China as the host country.
On this occasion Bluetech Clean Air Alliance (BCAA), a Chinese environmental think tank, released a report, “Gaining a rapid win against air pollution: How India can make use of China’s Experience”, sharing China’s experience which can be relevant to the Indian context in tackling high pollution levels across the country. The report reveals that India is facing a strong opportunity for controlling air pollution, and introduces China’s rapid progress in air quality management over 2013 to 2017, and identifies suggestions referencing China’s experience for Indian air quality management efforts currently underway.
As India enters the implementation stage of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), a plan which aims to bring down particulate pollution by 20-30% across 102 cities over the next five years, experts at BCAA claim that the predicament and questions were similar in China when Chinese government issued the National Clean Air Action Plan (2013-17). The targets and ambition set by the Chinese government, with highest political level buy in, required China to achieve significant air quality improvement in 5 years, comparable to the reduction Europe and US achieved in decades. This was considered an impossible mission and at the cost of slowing down economic growth.Yet, China successfully achieved all the air targets planned with continuous growth of economy. The particulate matter levels were reduced by over 22pc across China, and highly polluted Beijing and surrounding region saw a 40pc improvement.
Being two of the world’s largest economies and most populous countries, India and China’s battles against air pollution have global attention and spotlight. Combined, the two countries also have a population of over 2 billion people facing adverse health impacts of polluted air.
Tonny Xie, Head of Bluetech Clean Air Alliance says, “Strong political will and top level commitment from the government played fairly important roles in achieving clean air goals. In 2013, the Chinese premier declared a war against pollution, signalling a new era in environmental management. This paradigm shift meant more frequent and stronger policies and regulation, esp those that addressed air pollution. Nearly 300 national policies, appearing in different forms as regulations, sectoral standards and plans, had been rolled out from 2013 to 2017.’’
Based on China’s experience, the report emphasises the following key areas as necessary for air quality improvement to consider for India:
- Strong political commitment and belief by the top echelons of decision making in the country, in the benefits of air quality improvement.
- Well designed science based policy making towards developing emission inventory, data monitoring, air quality modelling, source apportionment and cost benefit analysis to ensure most optimal and prioritized action plans.
- Implementation targets of air quality programs designed with adequate consideration to regional air sheds, where sources of pollution are nearly similar.
- A systematic air quality monitoring network, in conjunction with strong supervision and enforcement framework are essential to make sure the policies and measures can really be implemented. .
- Spurt in clean technology market and overall development of green economy in the country- application of clean air technologies by China revealed that their investment of RMB 1.8 trillion in clean-tech resulted in a GDP growth of RMB 2 trillion.
- Significant co-benefits in curbing climate change is possible. Since China’s National Action Plan was introduced in 2013, coal’s share in China’s total energy consumption has been down for five consecutive years. China’s total GHGs emissions remain quite steadily from 2013 to 2017.
Dr Gufran Beig, Project Director, SAFAR, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteoreology says, “The NCAP program has given us a strong platform to deal firmly with air pollution. Since air pollution does not recognize boundaries and may travel distances through transport processes, a consolidated mitigation approach by coordinating across cities and regions is required. Creating awareness among people and strong enforcement of agreed control measures holds the key to effective air quality management.”
“There is already an apex committee in place for overall guidance to the program and an implementation committee that has all relevant agencies including State Pollution Control Board as members,” adds Prof Sachidanand Tripathi of Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur. As the member of the Steering Committee for NCAP Tripathi further shares, “A knowledge network has been formed with half a dozen technical institutions, 12 IITs, national labs and universities to work with state pollution control boards across 20 states on technical issues pertaining to city specific interventions and action plans under the NCAP. This is a very positive development for NCAP towards achieving its targets in timely fashion.”
Worsening air quality can be turned around as an economic opportunity for India to update its energy and industry structure, while contributing to technological innovation to spur its pace of growth. China’s example proves that if India deploys the right policies and technologies to mitigate the problem of air pollution, and ensures strict implementation, it can achieve both clean air and continued economic growth. With a new government in place and Prime Minister Narendra Modi returning to the helm with a stronger mandate, solutions are not impossible, the question is about implementing them.
Aarti Khosla, Director, Climate Trends, a communications initiative which partnered with Blue Tech Alliance to bring the Chinese study to India says, “As two countries with starkly different political systems, India and China differ fundamentally in how policies are set and implemented. Yet with bad air as a common, Indian decision making could borrow aspects of Chinese success, and combined it with a more participatory approach and an ‘Indian’ way of finding a solution to the problem. This will mean close coordination between the centre, states and the municipal corporations. No success is possible unless there isn’t agreement with the different levels of decision making, which is a necessary first step.’’
If China could achieve success, India also has the opportunity to galvanise public and policy support to achieve long term results. Band-aid solutions and knee jerk reactions will no longer suffice, and the sooner we take the issue head on, and address it with commitment, urgency and scientific rigour, the better it will be for a country poised to be at the frontline of change, socially, culturally and politically.
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