Cities alone cannot meet their clean air targets if the regional influence of the airshed cannot be tamed and minimised
CSE releases its new global review of regulatory approaches to implement regional action
New Delhi, September 7, 2022: On the occasion of the UN International Day of Clean Air for Blue Sky, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) warns that air has no boundaries – because of this, clean air action plans that draw hard boundaries around cities for the clean-up job are failing to address the major pollution sources in the larger orbit.They are fighting a losing battle, even as pollution from the larger airshed continues to invade and undermine local efforts.
This has emerged from a recent global review done by CSE, titled Managing Regional Air Quality: Need for a framework.
Find the full review document click here
Says AnumitaRoychowdhury, executive director, research and advocacy, CSE: “The science of regional influence of pollution has begun to take shape in India. The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) has taken on board the principle of regional air quality management. But there is no regulatory framework to enable multi-jurisdiction management for aligned action and to establish the upwind and downwind responsibilities of state governments to improve regional air quality. The deadly winter smog that wraps the entire Indo-Gangetic Plain every year is a lasting reminder of this regulatory gap.”
India’s NCAP has recognised the idea of a regional approach and inter-state coordination. It mentions that a comprehensive regional plan needs to be formulated incorporating the inputs from the regional source apportionment studies. It has listed series of measures that will cut across multiple jurisdictions and are regional in nature. These include implementation of policies related to transport like stringent norms for fuel and vehicles, shift from road to rail/waterways, fleet modernisation, electric vehicle policies, clean fuels, bye-passes, taxation policies, etc.
Industrial sector measures include stringent industrial standards, clean fuels, clean technology, and enforcement, and continuous monitoring. All these measures need enhanced LPG penetration and control of agricultural burning, and a regional level inter-state coordination, specifically for the Indo-GangeticPlains. But while the idea has been taken on board, the framework for a formal adoption of integrated management of airshed is not yet in place.
Such an approach has a legal underpinning. This framework requires delineation of the region for aligned and coordinated action. This in itself is challenging, as the scientifically delineated airshed may have several administrative and political overlaps in the real world and may be an impediment to establishing a legal framework to align regional action and responsibilities within a delineated zone.
This will require an operative framework. Says Roychowdhury: “Technically, identification of critically polluted areas is permitted within the existing provision of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, that can be leveraged for the purpose of air shed management. But this is currently applied with a very narrow scope to only the industrial areas/clusters. This can be expanded to cover a larger region based on the principle of airshed-based action.”
Such a precedent has not been set at an executive level in India yet. Only the public movement, judicial intervention and the subsequent setting up of the Air Commission for the Delhi-NCR and beyond has established the principle of regional approach and integrated planning by encompassing Delhi and sub-regions of three other states in the NCR region. This is an experiment that needs to be leveraged to create a framework.
Roychowdhury says: “This is needed to establish upwind and downwind movement of pollution and its effect and how this science can inform regional action and planning. This will also require strong science to assess and model air quality transport within a region, identify region-wide pollution sources, impact of atmospheric conditions and factors on local build-up of pollution and regional transport to understand the down-wind and up-wind character of the pollution movement among others. This science is in a very nascent stage in India though some valuable evidences have begun to emerge.”
What are other countries doing?
CSE’s global review shows that globally, national governments have begun to develop such a framework for management of transboundary pollution within the country and between countries. India also needs its template for regional action.
India needs to operationalise regional action
This review has established that the scope of India’s NCAP needs to be expanded to go beyond the city to a larger region for an airshed approach and include strategy and framework for regional air quality management. The most recent effort is the preparation of state action plans that has created an opportunity for more harmonised action across districts.
More steps are needed to develop regional monitoring strategy, legal frameworks, operative mechanism for integrated action and alignment of responsibilities of different authorities and compliance system within the region and the federal system. This strategy is needed to meet the clean air standards. As the science has established clearly that it is not possible for any local administrative unit to meet the clean air benchmark without minimising the regional influence, airshed level control strategies become necessary to meet the clean air targets.
KEY ACTIONS NEEDED
See CSE’s pre-Blue Sky day press release click here:
For more details and interviews etc, contact Sukanya Nair of The CSE Media Resource Centre: 8816818864, firstname.lastname@example.org