Can BS-VI help achieve Indian emission targets?

BS-VI emission norms are set to be introduced in India by April 2020. The progressive emission norms aim to bring down the vehicular air pollution levels and reduce India’s carbon footprint. In order to get a better insight about the shift to this cleaner fuel, team Urban Update interviews Sumit Sharma, Director, Earth Science and Climate Change, The Energy Research Institute (TERI)

Air pollution is a major concern in Indian cities and vehicular pollution is among the main contributors. The number of automobiles that are plying on the Indian roads has substantially increased in the past decade, resulting in more damage to the environment.Foreseeing that this would be a problem in the future, the Indian government had devised a comprehensive regulatory system which would be systematically implemented in the nation to cope with environmental damage. The emission standards, dubbed ‘Bharat Stage Emission Standards’, were first introduced in 2000 as an adaptation from the pre-existing European emission standards to regulate the output of air pollutants from internal combustion engines and spark-ignition engines equipment, including motor vehicles.
More stringent emission norms were rolled out in April 2017, when the Bharat Stage IV emission norms were implemented throughout the nation and now, in an effort to reduce the increasing vehicular emissions, further environment-friendly norms are to be implemented with the introduction of Bharat Stage VI (BS-VI) from April 1, 2020. The government had decided to directly implement BS-VI in 2020 instead of the pre-decided BS-V. The leap from BS-IV to BS-VI is to bring down the carbon footprint in an effective manner, as India failed to reduce the carbon footprint by 33-55 per cent from the level found in 2005, which it had agreed to accomplish by 2030 with the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement. BS-VI, like its predecessors, is drawn on the lines of the Euro VI norms, which have been already adopted in European countries. But, the Indian norms address one of the major drawbacks of its European counterpart by lowering the emission standards of higher PM (particulate matter) in diesel engines.
The National Capital Region (NCR) has been at the forefront in the implementation of progressive norms as now fuel distribution in Delhi adheres to BS-VI only, according to Prakash Javadekar, Environment Minister. “From next year BS-VI emission compliant vehicles will also be available,” said the minister in an address made to the Rajya Sabha in
July 2019.
Although BS-VI emission norms are designed in such a way that they will most likely bring down India’s carbon footprint and push our environment towards a cleaner future but in doing so, it is likely to impact the already declining automobile industry by causing a sizeable initial financial dent. “The ownership cost of BS-VI vehicles vis-a-vis BS-IV will be higher. The cost factor will be a big turn-off for consumers under the current market conditions,” Sridhar V, Grant Thornton India Partner told IANS.
This puts forth the question: Exactly how crucial the implementation of the norm is, given the current scenario? How can the general population benefit from this?
In order to better understand this new policy change, our team spoke to Sumit Sharma, Director, Earth Science and Climate Change, The Energy Research Institute (TERI).

How are the new emission norms better than its predecessor?
The major difference between the two is the amount of emissions, especially sulfur levels. Also, the focus will be more on the installation of tailpipe treatment devices with the introduction of BS-VI. This is to treat the vehicle emissions before release and delivers a reduction of 80 per cent in the total harmful emissions from the vehicle. Particulate Matter (PM) emissions are reduced to almost a third of the one’s emitted from BS-IV engines. Also, NOx (oxides of Nitrogen) gets reduced from 3.5 to almost 0.5 per cent.

Why did the government fast track the implementation of BS-VI?
Bharat Stage (BS) emissions are equivalent to their European counterpart Euro emission norms. Therefore, when Euro 5 norms were analysed, there wasn’t a substantial reduction in the number of certain pollutants like particulate matter and NOx. The move from Euro-4 to Euro-6 did see a decline in such pollutants. The fuel quality for Euro 5 and Euro 6 are the same (10 ppm Sulphur), so you’ll end up investing the same in the refinery sector but will not be able to reap the same benefits. The vehicular technology is, however, different for the fuels. So, a move to Euro-5 would have not tapped the full benefits of the emission norms.

How will the BS VI vehicle be different?
BS-VI won’t be reducing the emissions of the vehicles that are already plying on the roads today. The cleaner fuel will only contribute by marginally lowering the damaging emissions of these vehicles. However, these vehicles would be scrapped in the near future. And the problem with India is that there are no scrapping centers, officially, as of yet. TERI has been advocating the establishment of such centers across India to phase out old vehicles and provide some incentives for people to switch from older to newer vehicles. This is called fleet modernisation and this will help the automobile industry, but more importantly, it will essentially lower the emissions as we are moving from old technology to new technology.

Can cleaner fuel alternatives like CNG be exploited more and hopefully, be seen as a replacement for the traditional fuels in the future?
There is a common misconception with people that CNG is the cleanest fuel but it is not the case. If you look at NOx emissions, CNG vehicles emit similar amount of NOx emissions as traditionally used fuel driven vehicles do. It only curbs the particulate matter content from the emissions.

Given that Electric Vehicles (EVs) would sooner or later overtake petrol or diesel vehicles, so why do we continue to focus on the upgradation of petrol and diesel as we are planning to phase out the dependency on these fuels in the near future?
It is only in the past couple of years that the focus on the shift to EVs has taken precedence for the government, which is planning to shift to electric energy in the near future for mobility. So, when the decision to roll out BS-VI was taken in 2016, the electric story wasn’t that prominent.
The complete shift to electrics in India is inevitable, but, it won’t happen overnight. It will take us at least a few years or decades to completely phase out the existing fossil fuel driven vehicles. The Internal Combustion engine is still in operation until we shift completely to EVs and if it is going to stay, there is a need to curb the emissions of these vehicles.

Is Indian automobile industry economically ready to undergo this paradigm change?
The decision of the implementation of the new norms was taken almost four years back. Also, the economic slowdown in the automobile industry should not be linked with BS-VI. It is not the reason of the economic slowdown. The whole automobile lobby must have made prior arrangements to accommodate the new emission standards graded vehicles. They are already prepared as many companies have already been developing Euro VI vehicles outside of India, which shows that the technology was available. It is just that they need to employ this technology for India. Only thing is that costs might increase due to the introduction of tailpipe treatment devices, which might further lower the sales of the automobile industry. But, we must consider that the health of the population is much more important than the profits and hence, it should be prioritized.

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