India has been taking steps to curb air pollution but the transition to a green economy is not fast enough, experts said on Wednesday, calling on the government to adopt a proactive approach to reduce emissions.
The comments came a day after a study by a US-based research institute said that the average Indian resident is set to lose five years of life expectancy if the WHO guidelines for PM2.5 pollution are not followed.
The study attributed the rise in air pollution in India to the industrialisation, economic development and population growth over the last two decades, which have led to a skyrocketing energy demand and fossil fuel use.
“These studies remind us about our struggle to solve the air pollution problem. They basically inform us about the huge cost of air pollution in terms of human health and economy…keep reminding us where we are failing,” said Chandra Bhushan, president and CEO of the International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology, an independent non-profit environmental research and innovation organisation.
He said India is a poor country and growth is important but the option is “green growth”.
“We have made a good start in the energy sector and renewables are growing, but they’re not growing fast enough. We will not be able to meet the 175-gigawatt target that we have set (in 2022).
“The government needs to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy and not invest in the fossil fuel industry because it won’t be able to compete with renewables in 10 years from now,” the environmentalist said.
He rued that the green transition is not happening fast enough in the industrial sector and the automobile sector.
“The automobile industry, which is dominated by old businesses in India, has not been very proactive on the production of electric vehicles. Most of the e-vehicles belong to new brands,” Chandra Bhushan noted.
“Land degradation is another major challenge. One-third of the land in India is undergoing desertification. In summers, the biggest source of air pollution in Delhi is not automobiles, but dust,” he added.
Gufran Beig, founder project director, SAFAR, said the government should accelerate its efforts to reduce air pollution and target capturing emissions at source.
There should be clear cut science-based solutions for mitigation.
“Even the electricity for e-vehicles will come from coal-based power plants. Therefore, it is imperative to have the latest technology installed at the thermal power plants to reduce emissions,” he said.
“It is traffic snarls and not vehicles that lead to pollution. If we have intelligent traffic management systems in place and maintain our vehicles in a good shape, pollution levels can be brought down by 20 to 30 percent,” he said.
The transport sector accounts for around 40 per cent of the PM 2.5 pollution in a metropolis like Delhi.
Sunil Dahiya from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air said studies like the one conducted by EPIC show that despite launching programmes such as the National Clean Air Programme, air pollution has not been curbed.
“This means either there is something missing in our policies or we have not been able to implement them properly,” he said.
The government has not been able to control the consumption of fossil fuels and neither it is taking proactive action to curb emissions.
“While we have launched ambitious programmes like NCAP, we are yet to specify how we are going to achieve at least 20 to 30 percent reduction in PM2.5 pollution… Why are we not capping fossil fuel consumption? We have not yet ramped up our public transportation system. Until the approach is to reduce consumption or reduce emissions, a major improvement is unlikely,” he said.
Dahiya said the government has the bigger responsibility in controlling air pollution.
“What we can accomplish through a huge reduction in the number of cars on roads can simply be achieved by installing flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) systems on a thermal power plant,” he said.
FGD systems are used to limit the release of sulfur dioxide from coal-fired power plants.
Dahia also mentioned that despite having enough installed capacity, the government made a huge investment in new thermal power plants but many of them are lying unused and have become non-performing assets.