Air pollution is not a country-specific problem. Cities in India and elsewhere have realized that their efforts alone cannot bring down air pollution in their jurisdiction. Delhi is a fine example where stubble burning in neighbouring states affects the city’s air quality. Like climate change, there is a need to focus on a transnational and regional plan for curbing air pollution along with local initiatives
ir pollution is generally a result of energy use. The burning of fossil fuels and biomass is the principal source of air pollution in urban and rural areas. There is no guarantee that air pollution activity in one place would not affect the other. Thus, rural and urban areas, cities and states, and countries will have to come together to address the problem.
The recent collective initiative of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh governments to curb air pollution in urban areas of National Capital Region is a laudable move for many reasons. The first being, everyone has to play their part to reduce air pollution. This is the first time that the Court had ordered a ban on bursting of firecrackers in all the cities where air quality was poor. However, the ground impact of the order was not great because the implementation was poor. But this was the first time such order was passed at this scale. Though, in future, policymakers must keep in mind that such initiatives should propose blanket ban otherwise fractured initiatives will not give desired results.
Another good initiative is that the state governments of all these states have launched an awareness campaign supported by the technological solution for farmers to avoid stubble burning in their farms. This has significantly reduced the cases of stubble burning. I am sure that the collective efforts of these government will bring forward positive outcomes. I expectthat other states where air quality has worsened will also follow this example of collective and collaborative actions.
These efforts need to go beyond these states. I think, India, being one of the largest and most populated countries in the region, should take a leadership role in controlling air pollution in the region and the Government could forge a strategic alliance to reduce air pollution. This is also important because Asia-Pacific is among the worst-affected regions from air pollution-related issues and it is also reflected in terms of numbers in the burden of disease. According to a report by the UN Environment, 6.5 million people die annually from exposure to poor air quality. 70% of air pollution-related deaths occur in the Asia Pacific.
One such partnership already exists. Established in 2015, the Asia Pacific Clean Air Partnership is a platform for policymakers and stakeholders to share knowledge, tools and innovative solutions to tackle air pollution in the region. The effectiveness of this partnership is not yet visible on the ground. It can become effective only when all partners are actively engaged and come forward with innovative and creative solutions to address the problem. Such initiatives need to be supported by national governments and it should be reflected in their policy-making; then the objectives of such associations can be fulfilled. It would therefore be imperative that nations, their local governments and civil society as well as other interest groups come together to address this common challenge to provide clean air for their citizens and save precious lives. The time to do it is now.