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Air pollution levels up by 8%: U.N. report

LONG WAY TO GO:Though India has stringent pollution control laws, air quality remains poor.— PHOTO: PTI  

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) meeting at Nairobi noted that air pollution has increased by 8 per cent and progress and policies on air quality fall short of what is needed to save millions of lives each year.

The UNEA report “Actions on Air Quality”, released on Tuesday, said the declining air quality across the globe was threatening to add to the seven million air pollution deaths across the world in what was described as a ‘’global public health emergency.”

Glaring gap

A snapshot on the actions on air quality taken by countries across different regions saw India figure high among those with stringent air quality laws and regulations but it was also among those countries where burning of both agricultural and municipal wastes is not regulated and commonly practised.

This underlined the glaring gap between expression of intent and the ground that needs to be covered in implementing the policies.

While India was ranked among countries where major investments have been made in public transport in the last 5 years, it also figures among nations with neither low sulphur fuels (50 ppm) nor advanced vehicle emission standards, highlighting the dichotomy between intent and ground action.

Intent praised

The report noted that “India with major air quality challenges in many cities has established air quality laws besides regulation and implementation strategies for them.”

The report comes close on the heels of World Health Organisation (WHO) findings which listed 13 of India’s cities among the world’s top 20 polluted cities. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner spoke of “reclaiming our air’’ as more and more people around the world are affected by air pollution and the negative health affects.

More than 80 per cent of the people live in urban areas and are exposed to pollutants that exceed the WHO limits and have a bearing on lives, productivity and the economy of the countries concerned, according to the report.

Cost of mitigation

The cost of reducing air pollution in 2010 for India was pegged at $0.5 trillion and $1.4 trillion for China. However, on an optimistic note, the report said there have been improvements in access to cleaner cooking fuels and efforts point to a growing momentum for change.

The UNEA, reckoned to be the global environment parliament, is meeting at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi for the second time with the broad agenda of implementation of the 2030 sustainable development goals that were adopted by the member nations in 2015.