Our campaign started with blowing the lid on smog and exposing the smogmakers in a city where a person dies every hour due to air pollution. The campaign carries on to clean the air of noxious pollutants to make breathing easier for all.
Air quality and public health
The rate at which urban air pollution has grown across India is alarming. A vast majority of cities are caught in the toxic web as air quality fails to meet health-based standards. Almost all cities are reeling under severe particulate pollution while newer pollutants like oxides of nitrogen and air toxics have begun to add to the public health challenge. Only a few mega cities where action has started show some improvement in air quality but in most cases the particulate levels are still unacceptably high. But medium and small sized towns and cities are witnessing phenomenal spurt in pollution as severe as or more than any mega city.
Improve air quality monitoring to include more pollutants and more areas in cities to assess the risk of air pollution, make appropriate policies to control it and to create awareness amongst people about hard policy decisions. Ambient air quality standards are constantly evolving to address the emerging health challenges. We hope that the most recent attempt by CPCB to revise the ambient air quality standards will set tighter benchmark for air quality. These standards will set new and tighter targets for air quality improvement in our cities -- one uniform health based standards for all land-use classes; tighter standards for sensitive area; introduction of more short terms standards, among others.
We need to act fast as the gathering evidence worldwide convinces that India requires a leapfrog agenda to address the public health crisis looming large due to rapidly growing air pollution. India needs strong policy interventions to enable research in the field of air pollution. Health-based criteria should become the basis of air quality regulations. Only this can help break business and political resistance to hard mitigation measures to combat air pollution.
There aren’t too many comprehensive and systematic epidemiological studies to examine the magnitude of adverse health impacts due to air pollution in India. But evidences are emerging from sporadic studies in a few cities that bear out the public health challenge and the need to integrate the emerging information on air pollution into the policymaking process. The absence of an explicit national policy interlocking health-based criteria with air quality management is largely to be blamed for this lack of initiative. It is extremely important that the government accepts the precautionary principle and integrates health evidences with policymaking.
Energy and Transport
Transport sector is the largest user of oil – nearly half of the total consumption, and is poised to make India’s oil security even more precarious. Asian Development Bank projects that the total fuel consumption of on-road vehicles in India in 2035 can be six times over that of 2005 level. Explosive growth in personal vehicles and steady shift of freight transport from railways to roadways will incite ravenous appetite for energy. While the Automotive Mission Plan that aims to expand the auto hub in India does not link the new investments with stringent fuel efficient and clean emissions targets. It is indefensible that the government should be so willing to forego public revenue to support car industry that has no legal obligation to meet fuel efficiency standards.
So far, ironically because of lower level of income thresholds, the Indian market has favoured small cars and two wheelers. As small engines use less fuels the average fleet-wide fuel consumption is expected to be low. But already, with rising income levels there is steady shift towards bigger cars that use more fuels. Taking their place are the bigger cars in compact, mid size and high end segments. Therefore, standards can make a significant difference in India.
Worldwide fuel efficiency standards are crafted by the governments to benchmark improvement in efficiency levels of the vehicle technologies, provide a level playing field for companies to compete fairly with each other and allow consumers to compare models on the basis of fuel economy levels while shopping.
Fuel economy improvement will also help the Indian industry, which is aiming to globalize, to become more competitive. The societal benefits in terms of fuel savings can be enormous. Also the ancillary benefits from the avoidance of green house gas emissions escalation will be significant. Without fuel economy regulations there can be steady increase in size, weight, and power of vehicle fleet as has been noticed in other countries and also in India. While technology is advancing rapidly in other regions, there is huge potential for rapid diffusion of improved technologies if regulatory standards are in place in India.
Given the imperative of energy security in India regulating fuel economy levels of the vehicles will help to achieve substantial fuel savings. This tangible benefit can help to enlist public support for the regulations. Consumers are more sensitive to changes in fuel economy levels of the vehicles in India. Fuel economy regulations will also give ancillary benefit of reducing heat trapping carbon dioxide emissions for climate benefits. Setting mandatory standards is most important as the voluntary efforts make compliance more uncertain especially when industry begins to increase the power and performance of the vehicle that affects overall fuel efficiency of the fleet. Voluntary system has not worked anywhere in the world. Standards should be legally enforceable.
The government, therefore, should take immediate steps to give an early deadline to implement fuel economy standards for cars, and introduce an official fuel economy labelling programme. Otherwise, policy inaction will amount to state-sponsored fuel guzzling. If the target of improving fuel efficiency by 50 per cent, as envisaged by India’s energy policy, is achieved by 2030-31, India can save 65 per cent of its total current consumption and reduce CO2 emissions equal to removing seven million of today’s four-wheelers.
Climate and transport
For the first time, Indian regulators are faced with this explicit connection – curb local air pollution to save lives, and at the same time, shrink carbon and energy imprints of vehicles to save fuels and the climate. But this synergy is the weakest link in our policies today. We are caught in serious trade-offs instead.
Overall transport sector in India is estimated to emit about 15 percent of the CO2 emissions. But consider this – the total consumption of oil is responsible for 57 per cent of the CO2 in the country today. And among all oil-consuming sectors, CO2 emissions from transport are increasing at the fastest rate – at more than 6 per cent per annum. This is daunting for any national combat plan for climate and public health. Even globally, curbing warming gases from the transport sector has proven to be the most difficult. How can we avoid increase in GHG gases if cars drive the trend?
India must not build on its inherent strength – high usage of public transport, walking and cycling in cities. In India’s key metro cities public transport still meets a large share of commuting demand—88 per cent in Mumbai, 76 per cent in Kolkata, 70 per cent in Chennai, and 62 per cent in Delhi. Even today anywhere between 16 to 57 percent of daily commuting trips in our cities is walk trips. But wrong car centric polices are already signaling disaster. On average, by 2030, Indians will travel thrice as many kilometers as they traveled during 2000-01. If neglected the impressive modal share of public transport may drop from 75.7 per cent in 2001-02 to 44.7 per cent in 2030-31.
The current policy obsession with more roads, more parking spaces and more fiscal sops will only bring more cars. Public policies must avert this. The International Energy Agency estimates a 100 per cent difference in oil use in a future scenario dominated by high quality bus systems as opposed to personal vehicles in Delhi. Likewise, the Asian Development Bank projects that Bangalore can save 21 per cent of fuel consumption if it increases its share of public transport from the current 62 per cent to 80 per cent. Clearly, cities cannot afford to trade-off car restraint policies for car-centric growth.
Governments around the world are framing policies to push commuters to use buses, subways, trains, bikes, or even walk: to dampen the insatiable need for energy, free up road space from congestion and clean up the air. But our fiscal regulators have not understood this inherent strength. Tax policies are so distorted that public transport is made to bear a disproportionately high tax burden. A 2004 World Bank estimate shows that the total tax burden per vehicle kilometre is 2.3 times higher for public transport buses than cars in Indian cities. The annual road tax a bus pays in Delhi is higher than the one-time road tax a car pays in any given year.
The government must not overlook that wrong policies incite more oil guzzling and CO2 emissions in the rebound. For instance, cheap diesel also leads to more driving. Diesel fuel also has higher carbon content. Result - more CO2 from more fuel burnt. Look at the UK -- between 1996 and 2005, and despite improvements in fuel efficiency, CO2 emissions from private cars rose by 4 per cent because of a 10 per cent increase in driving distances. Even particulate reduction benefits reduced. And now science also implicates black carbon emissions from diesel vehicles as a potent greenhouse pollutant!
India made the biggest mistake in not setting fuel economy standards for vehicles early. This has serious implications for the growing GHG emissions at this explosive stage of motorisation.
There is no reason why India must remain entangled in clean air vs. low carbon growth trade-offs, when solutions exist to resolve them. The choice is clear – and it’s certainly not the one between clean air and hot air. We need aggressive roadmap for sustainable mobility to reduce usage of cars and increase ridership of public transport, and aggressive measures on fuel economy standards and clean emissions standards.
The biggest challenge that confronts cities today is the intractable problem of automobile dependence. As the automobile dependence continues to grow, it is adversely affecting the quality of urban life. Congestion, unsafe roads and pollution remain their bane. Unless accompanied by policies to restrict the growth in car and motorised two-wheeler travel, cities will run hard only to stand still.
Despite a very small minority using cars in cities, the available road space and transport-related investments are getting locked up only to cater to them. Public transport, bicycles and pedestrian facilities used by the vast urban majority, especially the urban poor, remain neglected. The poor end up paying an enormous cost for their travel, while car users do not even pay the full cost of car travel. Indian cities, in fact, penalise public transport with higher taxes compared to personal vehicles.
At its root lies the failure of public transport in cities. Only about eight of the 35 Indian cities, which have a population exceeding one million, have dedicated, effective bus services. Smaller cities are even more constrained. Despite the odds, public transport in a few big metros does meet exceptionally high travel demands. But governments do not have any policy to protect and increase this captive ridership.
Building up the public transport agenda with an appropriate mix of improved bus systems and rapid transit systems (either bus- or rail-based) will present a daunting challenge in Indian cities. While massive capacities have been created to deploy resource-intensive rail-based systems that very few cities can afford, there is no example of more cost-effective bus-based rapid transit systems. An even bigger hurdle is the lack of means to generate funds for public transport. The existing transit agencies are in a moribund state, and there is no coherent public transport policy to guide and regulate private investments for quality services. Without fundamental reforms, public transport cannot be leveraged to address the crisis.
The regulators must recognise that there are cities around the world which have shown that with travel demand management policies, it is possible to reverse automobile dependence. Congestion pricing, parking levers, land use changes, and car-free movements are among the wide range of strategies available that can reduce car use. Regulators need to be convinced that mobility management does not restrict mobility, but increases sustainable travel options for each trip, and reduces travel by personal vehicles. Cities can choose to have more sustainable transportation system if they choose to change their transportation priorities.
Vehicle Technology and Fuel
Vehicles are a special problem as they emit in the breathing zone of people. A large number of studies are now available that show exposure to vehicle exhaust causes significant increase in respiratory symptoms and lung function impairment, cancer and plethora of other ailments. Indian evidences have also begun to emerge. Congestion further aggravates emissions. Low average speeds due to traffic congestion increases the emissions due to the stop-and-go pattern of traffic flow in congested condition.
Leapfrog to clean vehicle technology and fuels and fuel efficient vehicles. Small gains are easily offset by the growing traffic volumes. Indian regulations instead of pushing the automobile industry to catch up with the global best standards, fall short of what the industry is capable of achieving. Public health goals cannot be met in cities if vehicles continue to meet poor emissions standards. Five to ten year lag in emissions standards and uncontrolled dieselization without clean diesel can further aggravate public health impacts. The current European standards allow diesel vehicles to emit several times more oxides of nitrogen than petrol vehicles and are lenient on particulate standards.
There is no roadmap yet that sets the milestones for uniform and tighter emissions standards for the entire country. Yet the Auto Mission Plan is proposing to make India the auto hub without linking the new investments with the effective roadmap.
The enabling fuels are needed to speed up the technology roadmap. Without the ultra-low sulphur fuels India — like many other Asian countries — cannot take the advantage of advanced emissions control technologies that can achieve significantly low emissions at reasonable costs. India — where more than half of the existing refinery capacities have been created in the recent years — has not been driven by an aggressive roadmap. The longer India delays addressing these issues, the longer its citizens will suffer the adverse consequences of the toxic pollution.
The solution is to leapfrog. Global experience demonstrates that it is cheaper to leapfrog and fiscal solutions exist to mitigate the costs of technology transformation.
Or take alternative route. Gaseous fuels — natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) — have opened up opportunities in India to sidestep conventional and polluting technologies of diesel and petrol. Both natural gas and LPG have the potential to cut particulate emissions from vehicles to negligible levels. Nearly 80 cities in India can have CNG by 2012. Implement gaseous fuels programmes with the effective fiscal support and incentives, infrastructure for their maintenance and enforcement of safety regulations to maximise the emissions gains from these programmes.
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For further information contact: Right to Clean Air Campaign team
CENTRE FOR SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT
41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area,
New Delhi. India - 110062
Tel: +91-11 29955124/125; 29956394, Ext. 221, 222
Fax: +91-11 29955870; 29955879
New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment (CSE) invites you to city dialogue on ‘Air Quality and Transportation Challenge: An Agenda for Action’. CSE’s clean air and sustainable mobility team is organising this dialogue in collaboration with the Chandigarh Administration.