World Environment Day: India can replicate China’s plan to tackle pollution

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The United Nations Environment Programme has chosen air pollution as the theme for this year’s World Environment Day that falls on June 5.

China’s experience can be relevant to India in tackling high pollution levels across the country, a new report by a Chinese policy and advocacy group said on Wednesday. The report said India is facing a strong opportunity for controlling air pollution and introduces China’s rapid progress in air quality management from 2013 to 2017. It also identifies suggestions referencing China’s experience for Indian air quality management efforts currently underway. 

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has chosen air pollution as the theme for this year’s World Environment Day that falls on June 5 with China as the host country. Chinese environmental think tank Bluetech Clean Air Alliance released a report, “Gaining a rapid win against air pollution: How India can make use of China’s experience” sharing China’s experience that can be relevant to the Indian context in tackling high pollution levels. 

As India enters the implementation stage of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), a plan which aims to bring down particulate pollution by 20-30 per cent across 102 cities in five years, experts at Bluetech Clean Air Alliance claim the predicament and questions were similar in China when the government issued the National Clean Air Action Plan (2013-17). 

The targets and ambition set by the Chinese government required it to achieve significant air quality improvement in five years, comparable to the reduction Europe and the US achieved in decades. This was considered an impossible mission and at the cost of slowing down economic growth, an expert said. 

Yet, China successfully achieved all the air targets planned with continuous growth of economy. The particulate matter levels were reduced by over 22 per cent across China, and highly polluted Beijing and surrounding region saw a 40 per cent improvement. 

Being two of the world’s largest economies and most populous countries, India and China’s battles against air pollution have global attention and spotlight. Combined, the two countries also have a population of over two billion people who are facing adverse health impacts of polluted air. Bluetech Clean Air Alliance head Tonny Xie said, “Strong political will and top level commitment from the government played fairly important roles in achieving clean air goals.”

“In 2013, the Chinese premier declared a war against pollution, signalling a new era in environmental management. This paradigm shift meant more frequent and stronger policies and regulation. Nearly 300 national policies, appearing in different forms as regulations, sectoral standards and plans, had been rolled out from 2013 to 2017.” 

Based on China’s experience, the report said India should consider strong political commitment and belief by the top echelons of decision making in the country in the benefits of air quality improvement.

Also, well designed science-based policy making towards developing emission inventory, data monitoring, air quality modelling, source apportionment and cost benefit analysis to ensure most optimal and prioritized action plans. 

It also favours implementation targets of air quality programs designed with adequate consideration to regional air sheds where sources of pollution are nearly similar. 

Aarti Khosla, Director, Climate Trends, a communications initiative which partnered with Bluetech Clean Air Alliance to bring the Chinese study to India said, “As two countries with starkly different political systems, India and China differ fundamentally in how policies are set and implemented.”

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