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The clean air programme will help millions live healthier lives

Effective implementation of NCAP will help make India’s economy more competitive in the long run

analysis Updated: Feb 25, 2019 19:04 IST
Harsh Vardhan and Michael Bloomberg
Harsh Vardhan and Michael Bloomberg
This rapid industrialisation and urbanisation have brought many benefits to people’s lives, but they have also brought to the forefront public health concerns about air pollution in urban and industrial towns(PTI)

As one of the world’s largest economies, India’s environmental leadership is crucial, and the country can help spur global progress by taking on an important challenge that is closely linked to both public health and the planet’s health: air pollution.

India as an emerging economy has been going through a phase of accelerated development for the past few years to meet the aspirations of its burgeoning population. This rapid industrialisation and urbanisation have brought many benefits to people’s lives, but they have also brought to the forefront public health concerns about air pollution in urban and industrial towns.

The Indian government has acknowledged the importance of the issue by launching the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), as a comprehensive national level programme. This is a landmark effort of the government to improve air quality, quality of life, health, and economic well being in the country. It’s ambitious, but it is achievable — and these measures that will help India fulfil its commitment will also modernise the economy and address climate change, since many of the biggest sources of air pollution are also major contributors of the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.

India is already taking other important steps forward with far reaching benefits under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For instance, the Indian government launched a major effort to provide all citizens with access to clean fuels, and, under the Ujjwala Scheme, provided free cooking gas connections to more than 60 million households, with the ultimate goal of reaching 100% of households. This effort will not only improve people’s lives, but also bring enormous health benefits, because cooking with wood and other biomass is the single largest cause of air pollution in India.

India is also working to reduce emissions from cars and trucks and has proposed a transition to an electric vehicle fleet, both of which set an example for other countries. The government has prescribed new pollution standards for power plants, and launched an ambitious programme to increase clean energy and reduce dependency on fossil fuels, which are major sources of both air pollution and carbon emissions.

Now, India is poised to tap another powerful driver of both economic modernisation and cleaner air: its cities. While cities are the centre of the pollution problem — both in India and around the world — they can also be a big part of the solution.

New York City is one example among many. The city used to have a reputation for having terrible air quality. Today, New York’s air is cleaner than it has been in more than 50 years. That progress was made possible through efforts like making safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists; helping building owners switch to cleaner fuel; new guidelines to increase energy efficiency; and planting one million new trees.

From 2005 to 2013, New York City’s carbon emissions fell by nearly 20%, life expectancy increased by three years, and the number of jobs rose to record levels. People want to live where the air is clean, and where people live, businesses want to invest.

Cities around the world are taking similar steps, and to assist Indian cities, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is collaborating with some of the institutional organisations like Bloomberg Philanthropies, World Bank, UNDP etc on a new effort. Over the next two years, that will help a group of non-attainment Indian cities better understand air pollution-related aspects with scientific approaches, identify its sources, and develop action plans.

Cities will be supported to work together to share insights and strategies. No two cities are the same but they face many common challenges and what works in one often works in others. For example, better waste facilities in and around cities would also clean up the air and improve life in neighbourhoods currently burdened with waste issue. And investment in modernising the brick making industry would support a vital source of jobs and income while reducing its impact on public health.

Effective implementation of NCAP will help millions of Indians live healthier lives. They will help India lead the way in fighting climate change. And these measures will help make India’s economy more competitive. Ultimately, the same steps that address air pollution and protect the planet also make communities healthier and wealthier — and that is a powerful message that India can deliver to the rest of the world.

Harh Vardhan is Union minister of environment, forest and climate change. Michael Bloomberg is former mayor of New York City

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Feb 25, 2019 19:03 IST