Breathing fresh air into the NCR’s pollution control

News: Supreme Court questioned government and role of Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) for the lack of actual ground results in the fight against air-pollution in Delhi.

At a hearing, the Court gave the Centre and Delhi government 24 hours to come out with suggestions to control air pollution.

What is the problem with CAQM’s approach to tackling NCR’s air pollution?

The performance of CAQM is not up to the mark. It has been unable to tackle the interdependent causes behind air pollution, driven by complex urban issues.

For instance: Urban transformation is a social process (people, services, lifestyles) of how cities evolve over time, rather than a physical problem (congestion, technology, regulation).

Therefore, CAQM should focus on cities’ organisation, that requires collaboration between multiple stakeholders.

What lessons can India learn from Beijing in controlling air pollution?

Similarities b/w Bejing and Delhi’s approach to tackle air pollution:

Both Delhi and Beijing, share a 3-stage approach to tackle air pollution and both have comparable size of population.

The 3 stage approach starts with addressing air pollution at source, gradually moving to tackle primary pollutants (SO2, NO2, PM10, and CO). Later, secondary pollutants (PMx) leading to smog, primarily PM2.5 becomes the main focus for control with a regional coordination mechanism.

Differences b/w Delhi and Beijing’s approach:

The UNEP’s review of Beijing’s strategy, points to a system characterised by:

systematic planning, strong monitoring capacity, local standards, specific enforcement mechanisms and public awareness

A network for early warning: The combined high-resolution satellite remote sensing and laser radar and over 1,000 PM2.5 sensors throughout the city gives accurate data to identify high-emission areas and periods. In case of forecasted heavy pollution, warnings are issued at least 24 hours in advance through the media, in addition to daily air quality reports and forecasts.

Approach to urbanisation: Major cities including Beijing, rather than shutting down industries or restricting personal car and travel, have taken a different approach to urbanisation. It includes:

– Mixed Land use planning in cities like New York and Beijing provides more space for public transport and minimises the need for travel. In China, 72% of travel is completed by public transport, compared with 37% in Japan, 17% in Europe and 10% in the U.S.

Source apportionment studies: When it comes to air pollution, particulate matter is the most difficult to control, leads to smog and serious health issues. A systematic study on PM2.5 source apportionment in Beijing found that on-road diesel vehicles formed the largest part of pollution sources. The policy focus, hence, gradually changed from gasoline vehicle emissions to heavy-duty diesel vehicle emissions.

Phasing out older vehicles made the most significant contribution. In Delhi, source apportionment is still being debated.

Source Apportionment (SA) is the identification of ambient air pollution sources and the quantification of their contribution to pollution levels.

Innovative implementation steps were instituted in Beijing. Economic incentives designed were specifically tailored to a problem. For instance: A differentiated fee was charged, according to the concentration of waste gas emissions, from those who chose to remain in production. Also, an attractive level of subsidy was given to high-polluting enterprises to close their production.

– Enforcement at the municipal and State levels is coordinated, with each level having different responsibilities and mechanisms for cooperation.

Lastly, independent evaluations review the air quality management system, assessing the pollution reduction effects in selected areas, and provide recommendations for enabling further improvement in air quality and building public support.

Source: This post is based on the article “Breathing fresh air into the NCR’s pollution control” published in The Hindu on 3rd Dec 2021.

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