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5 Global Success Stories On Battling Air Pollution: Can Delhi Learn From Them?

Knee-jerk reactions to curb pollution are not a permanent solution to the crisis, but sustainable solutions which include strict legislative norms, citizen’s participation and community engagement on a massive scale and dispersion of eco-friendly technology may be effective in battling this crisis, which poses a threat to people and the environment.

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With rising air pollution in NCR and the deteriorating air quality, record levels of PM 2.5 and PM 10, it is integral to devise sustainable solutions to dampen and curb the effects of pollution, and nip it at its bud. Countries like China, South Korea, USA, Singapore and Mexico have successfully implemented policies to bring down pollution levels from drastic levels to a bearable amount. More and more countries are implementing solutions to reduce the impact on the planetary thresholds, and these policies and programs include electric cars, switching to more efficient fuels and engines, reduction in industrial output, shutting down of coal plants, expanding public transportation and so on. While some of these steps are gradually being adopted in India, (for example the shift to electric cars by 2022), it is integral to note that if the pollution levels are not curbed with immediate sustainable solutions in Delhi, there will be widespread health effects and a burden on the health-care system in the city, not to mention the impact on the environment.

The following are some success stories from around the world, about policy and other changes instituted to combat air pollution

  • In Southern California, various policies and programs were put into use including electric cars, ship at-port electrification, cleaner fuel for trucks, ships and trains and mandatory installation of newer and cleaner engines. Despite a 38% increase in traffic, 30% increase in population and 160% increase in port activity from the year 1994 to 2011, the policies and programs led to drastic decreases in pollution levels, with a 54% fall in NOx, 65% fall in reactive organic gases, 40% fall in SOx, 21% decrease in PM 2.5 and 15% decrease in PM 10.
  • In China, air quality was improved drastically by reducing production of steel and coal-fired electricity, and heavy investments into wind and solar power. Chinese cities are pressing residents to give up coal stoves and furnaces at home. Officials have required higher-quality gasoline and diesel for vehicles. Car emissions standards set to take effect in 2020 will be comparable to European and American ones. But the focus remains on heavy industry. In March 2017, the national government announced the closure or cancellation of 103 coal-fired power plants, capable of generating a total of more than 50 gigawatts of power. It said it would also cut steel production capacity by another 50 million tons. The country also created citizen watchdogs, by making air quality data from monitoring stations public, and allowing anyone with a smart-phone to detect air-quality and report violations.
  • Seoul, South Korea, piloted an LPG engine retrofit program on 135 2.5-ton cleaning trucks used by local governments to pursue lower emissions from diesel vehicles, a project launched by both the city and the surrounding areas in 2003. From 2005, the project was expanded to cover city buses and business vehicles, introducing the installation of DPF and DOC devices, LPG engine retrofits, and early termination of vehicle registration for vehicles failing to meet the emissions requirements.
    Seoul is also interested in encouraging the use of electric cars as a fundamental solution to air pollution, and has distributed such “green” cars since 2009 and built charging stations to test-run for wider use of electric cars. The city is a leader in “green” car projects, starting with electric bicycles, low-speed/retrofitted/high-speed electric cars, electric buses, hydrogen-powered cars, and online electric car, etc. Beginning in 2009, Seoul has built charging stations at City Hall, local district offices, parks and other public facilities, and developed a “smart payment” system to meet potential demand for easy payment. To ensure air quality control is systematic, Seoul operates monitoring stations across the city. Following the ozone alert system in 1995, a particulate matter alert system was introduced in 2005 to help protect city residents.
  • In Singapore, standards on vehicular emissions have become increasingly stringent over the years. The emissions standard for all new diesel vehicles had been revised from Euro IV standard to the Euro V standard on 1 January 2014. The emissions standard for petrol vehicles were revised to Euro IV standards from 1 April 2014. National Environment Agency also carries out regular enforcement against smoky vehicles. Fines are issued to owners of smoky vehicles. In addition, drivers who leave their engines idling are taken to task. The National Environment Agency keeps a close eye on air pollution in Singapore through fourteen air monitoring stations around the island, sensors installed in the chimneys of factories, and video cameras trained on smoke stacks in industrial parks. This continuous monitoring allows NEA to detect any deterioration of air quality and respond immediately and provides evidence for acts of non-compliance when it comes to enforcement against culprits. It also allows NEA to find out whether its policies and programmes to ensure the effectiveness good air quality are effective.
  • In 1992, the United Nations declared Mexico City the most polluted on the planet. High ozone levels were thought to cause 1,000 deaths and 35,000 hospitalizations a year. Mexico was forced to act. It replaced the city's soot-belching old cars, removed lead from gasoline, embraced natural gas, and expanded public transportation, and relocated refineries and factories. The presence of lead in the air has dropped by 90 percent since 1990. Suspended particles -pieces of dust, soot or chemicals that lodge in lungs and cause asthma, emphysema or cancer - have been cut 70 percent. Carbon monoxide and other pollutants also have been drastically reduced.  Much of the improvement can be attributed to a requirement that Mexico-based auto manufacturers put catalytic converters on cars produced for the Mexican market. Now Mexico must require all diesel vehicles to be retrofitted with a filter that is the equivalent of a catalytic converter.

It is integral that policymakers in Delhi take note of these success stories and devise sustainable solutions to improve air-quality and safeguard its citizens. Only the coming weeks will tell the efficacy of policy measures already instituted, like the odd-even scheme, banning of construction and old diesel vehicles, and a permanent solution to tackle the crop-burning issue in neighbouring states has to be formulated. Going forward, knee-jerk reactions to curb pollution will not a permanent solution to the crisis, but sustainable solutions which include strict legislative norms, citizen’s participation and community engagement on a massive scale and dispersion of eco-friendly technology may be effective in battling this crisis, which poses a threat to people and the environment.

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