Delhi has figured in a list of 13 most polluted cities in Asia, along with Beijing, Lagos, Seoul and others, according to a latest analysis by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
A mass of soot and other polluting particles have formed a thick layer called Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABC) over Delhi after reacting with other noxious fumes, making the city darker and intensifying effects of climate change in the region, says the UNEP project ABC Report released on Thursday.
The more than three-kilometre layer of cloud is a result of burning fossil fuel and biomass, the report said. “While ABC formation is a global phenomenon, it has been most intensively studied in Asia...because the region’s highly variable climate, including the formation of the annual monsoon,” the report stated.
Mumbai and Kolkata have also been named ‘ABC hotspots’, giving India the dubious distinction of being the only country with three of its mega cities making the list.
The list is a blot on the CV of a city that has had historic policy initiatives in cleaning its air in the past eight years, including running the entire public transport fleet on compressed natural gas.
The report comes a day after the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) released data saying several policy initiatives in Delhi have reduced major pollutants like sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide by up to 70 per cent in the past eight years.
“The increase in the number of vehicles has been 57 per cent in eight years. But the increase in air pollution seems less than what it should have been. Delhi’s air has become cleaner,” said S.D. Makhijani, member secretary, CPCB.
Environmentalists have long been arguing that Delhi’s “clean-air” advantage is being lost due to an increase in vehicles and other factors.
“Without an efficient public transport system checking the unmitigated growth in personal vehicles, the fight for clean air was being lost,” said environmentalist Sunita Narain, who is the director of NGO Centre for Science and Environment.