Sat, Oct 27, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The world’s fastest-growing economy has the world’s most toxic air

Home to the world’s 10 most polluted cities, India — unlike China — is struggling to pull together a coordinated policy to curb pollution

By Iain Marlow  /  Bloomberg

The Indian government has said some international studies linking air pollution to mortality “may not be realistic” and that the “number of deaths due to air pollution needs to be further investigated and supported by indigenous studies.”

The Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change says it is also making headway in reducing bad air, citing its own calculations for last month, when it says levels of PM2.5 came down in Delhi.

The ministry has introduced an early warning system to help it take pre-emptive action before pollution spikes and it has planned other measures like deploying more road sweeping machines.

The government acknowledges that more needs to be done, Indian Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Harsh Vardhan said.

“We are not claiming that everything is fine now, we can relax now. We’re not relaxing even for a moment,” he said.

Modi’s government has also promoted solar power, improved emission standards and handed out millions of cooking gas canisters to reduce kitchen fires inside homes. Officials have also tried to ban farmers from burning crops.

However, environmentalists are still waiting for more concrete targets from a national clean air plan that has yet to be officially launched.

“Any plan at this stage requires reduction targets,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, who has been advocating against air pollution for more than 20 years at New Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment. “And there has to be a clear compliance strategy.”

There is an additional challenge. In India’s chaotic democracy, where poverty and unemployment are often seen as bigger concerns, different branches of government run by competing political parties sometimes have little incentive to collaborate on pollution.

Raghav Chadha, a spokesperson for the Aam Aadmi Party that runs New Delhi’s local government, said his party has limited powers on pollution and can only take small steps like temporarily banning construction.

“What is required is coordination between various states governments under the leadership of the central government,” he said, adding that his party has “serious differences” with Modi’s administration.

China, by contrast, had Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) declare a national war on pollution. The central government also told local officials they would not get promoted without meeting air quality targets, and the nation has sought to move away from polluting industries. Government policies forced millions of homes and businesses to switch from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas.

Concentrations of PM2.5 plunged 33 percent in Beijing, Tianjin and 26 surrounding cities in fourth quarter last year compared with the same period in 2016.

“Beijing has the capacity to act speedily and decisively, and certainly more efficiently than democracies like the US and India,” said Daniel Gardner, a history professor at Smith College who has written a book on pollution in China.

China continues to battle a cancer epidemic, and its efforts on pollution have had their own problems. In some cases, it simply closed down polluting industries in key cities and shifted them to western regions, said Kristin Aunan, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate Research. Still, China later followed up with an updated plan that extended pollution targets to other cities.

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