Premature deaths will rise minus air quality norms: IEA

Less than one per cent of India’s population lives in areas that meet World Health Organisation air quality guidelines. But if stringent air pollution regulations are in place, this could increase to almost 10 per cent by 2040, says a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The “Energy and Air Pollution, World Energy Outlook Special Report”, released in June, assesses the role of energy in air pollution and makes emissions projections for 2040 based on two scenarios.

The existing policy scenario includes policies adopted or announced by the government, and the clean air scenario highlights what could be achieved through stronger action.

Housing over one-sixth of the world’s population but using only six per cent of energy, India’s energy use is bound to rise, the report says. Thermal power stations, vehicles, back-up generators, brick kilns, industrial activity and biomass burning for cooking and heating are major sources of energy-related pollution. The report identifies sources for three big pollutants: NOx (nitrates), SO2 (sulfates) and PM2.5 (particulate matter).

Transport is the major contributor of nitrates, power sector for sulfates and residential sector for particulates. While power plants have installed control technologies for nitrates and sulfates, they are often suboptimal or operate inefficiently.

Without policy efforts, sulfates and particulates would roughly double by 2040 and nitrates would grow almost 2.5 times.

But due to new power sector regulation, SO2 is likely to be restricted to around 10 per cent relative to today’s. NOx emissions growth could be contained to 10 per cent in 2040 by new passenger car standards. Further, efforts to promote access to clean cooking facilities for poor households have to be continued to moderate PM2.5 rise to around 7 per cent. But even with all existing policies, absolute growth in emissions (especially PM2.5), coupled with strong population growth, means the number of premature deaths linked to outdoor air pollution will still grow significantly, says the report.

The report acknowledges the role of Environmental Protection Amendment Rules (EPA) 2015 in strengthening emission standards for new and existing plants. But the results will not be delivered without effective compliance, which has to be monitored at the plant level, with penalties for violations, it says.

Weak norms

But regulation is weak. For instance, PM emission limits for most iron and steel processes are three times higher in India than in China and 7.5 times higher than in Germany. India is taking important steps to tackle air pollution with policies that are in place and those that have been announced, but much more can be done, the report says, advocating a ‘Clean Air Scenario’ involving three key areas of action.

First, set an ambitious long-term WHO-benchmarked air quality goal. Second, a clean AIR strategy for the energy sector: Avoid pollutant emissions, Innovate to reduce pollution abatement costs and Reduce emissions. Third, it calls for effective monitoring, enforcement, evaluation and communication using reliable data.

The Clean Air Scenario could cut down PM2.5 emissions by almost 80 per cent relative to the existing policies scenario, NOx emissions by half and SO2 emissions by 70 per cent. This will lower average life expectancy loss by eight months compared to the existing policy scenario and cut premature deaths linked to outdoor and household air pollution.

One of the main conclusions of this study is that the energy sector must work closely with a range of stakeholders to tackle air pollution successfully.

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Printable version | Oct 11, 2021 1:06:46 AM |

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