New Delhi: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has sought support from India to lead the dialogue on air pollution and its the impact on health during upcoming Climate summit COP28 in December 2023.
Addressing the India Clean Air Summit (ICAS) 2023, Dr. Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, WHO, said,“India now has the presidency of G20, one of the interventions of which is decarbonisation of the healthcare sector, but we need your support, and collaboration in providing ideas for strengthening the health community’s argument on health on December 3 in COP28.”
The United Nations Climate Change Conference commonly referred to as COP28 will be held from November 12 to December 12 in Dubai. Health has been included as a theme in the COP28 for the first time.
The WHO is looking at a goal of bringing a large number of health professionals from various countries to COP28 as air pollution and climate change have huge overlaps. Dr.Neira urged India’s participation to lead in tackling this by being committed towards the issue.
“We want India leading, providing, committed, and outspoken to include air pollution challenges in the conversation amidst the recent spotlight. We need to accelerate the transition towards cleaner sources of energy and we believe that India could give very good results in this,” said Dr. Neira.
According to her, three transitions are required to achieve the goals, namely, reduced dependence on fossil fuels by transitioning to cleaner fuels, transition towards better urban planning, and transition towards sustainable ecosystems.
“There is a lot to gain with the right steps, but also a lot to lose as well, if we don’t do so. Countries need to change the matrix of success, where success needs to be measured by the number of diseases they reduce and number of pollution-related deaths prevented,” she warned.
Dr. Neira added, “Breathing clean air is fundamental for our health. Tackling air pollution will not only positively impact our well-being– it will also contribute to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including gender, energy or climate.
The 5th edition of the India Clean Air Summit showed that India is fully committed to take air pollution seriously and holistically. We need India’s leadership to fight air pollution as they landed on the moon. We cannot work alone on fighting this – It’s time to save lives, support healthy communities, and help address the climate crisis we are all faced with today.”
Clean air for sustainable development and Mission LiFE also happen to be ICAS 2023’s theme. Dr. Pratima Singh, Senior Research Scientist, Air Quality, CSTEP, said, “Such continuous dialogue with various stakeholders will ensure effective measures are taken to increase life expectancy ratio as India continues to be on the bottom side of the global average on life expectancy.”
As per Sample Registration System (SRS) data made public recently, India’s average life expectancy was 69.7 years between 2015-19. Whereas, the global average is 72.6 years. It took India almost 10 years to add two years to the life expectancy.
India has the potential to increase another two years of average life expectancy in well less than a decade if mass-level measures are initiated beginning with understanding and analysing the air quality data for an improved action plan.
Amit Bhatt, India Managing Director of The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), shed light on the profound implications of India’s rapidly growing transportation sector by stating: “With estimates projecting Delhi to surpass Tokyo and is set to become the world’s largest urban agglomeration by 2030, there is an urgent need to address the sector’s environmental impact.”
Transport currently contributes 14% of India’s CO2 emissions, with road transport being the predominant source, accounting for 90% of energy consumption within the sector.
The gravity of the situation was further underscored by him by the fact that India imports 90% of its crude oil, intensifying both energy security concerns and the need for sustainable alternatives.
Bhatt underscores that motor vehicle exhaust constitutes the largest source of air pollution in cities, emphasising that a reduction in tailpipe emissions could catalyse significant improvements in urban air quality, ultimately benefiting public health.
He highlighted the stark reality that transport emissions lead to around 75,000 deaths annually in India.
“In a quest to address these challenges, the imperative of decarbonising India’s energy system for transportation and residential buildings – striving for zero tailpipe emissions. To achieve this, we must champion Real-World Emissions Measurement,” concluded Bhatt.
Sharing data at ICAS 2023, Dr. Sarath Guttikunda, Director, UrbanEmissions.Info mentioned that India has 883 manual air monitoring stations and another 438 continuous air monitoring stations; however, 4,094 air monitoring stations are required, adding, “We have a lot of issues with the quality of the information from continuous stations, these challenges need to be addressed.
Calibration, maintenance and integration are the areas where, both on the science and policy side, we need to work on. All of this will improve if we focus more on the training aspect.”
At ICAS 2023, Dr. Jai Asundi, Executive Director, CSTEP, said, “The idea behind the summit is to ensure engagement between academia and industry policymaking and other stakeholders in civil society to figure out that air pollution is a common problem for all to solve.
Given the importance of air quality and what we are seeing in the ecosystem, we need to work on four pillars – measuring the air quality, modelling to understand the changes happening around us, policy engagement to understand the impact of air quality, and the latest thing is capacity building on how do we build capacity in our institutions in our society.”