Watch the full video of the panel discussion on ‘Research for Policy Action on Air Pollution, in collaboration with Centre for Research on Economics of Climate, Food, Energy, and Environment (CECFEE)’ organised as part of CPR Dialogues, featuring Shibani Ghosh, E Somanathan, Ritesh Kumar Singh, Nitin Sethi, Vinuta Gopal, chaired by Navroz K Dubash.
As India struggles to manage the national crisis of air pollution, the urgency of the situation often results in piecemeal and reactive mitigation measures. While necessary, these short-gap solutions need to be supported by long-term strategic thinking on the issue, that drives action over the course of the whole year rather than only at peak pollution times.
Any real improvement in air quality requires broad understanding of the problem among citizens. Focusing only on episodic spikes risks normalising the high average levels of year-round pollution as either acceptable or inevitable. Effective change will likely require behavioural change in public and private actors, meaningful political engagement, and consistency in monitoring and reporting protocols, which will act both as a deterrent and an enforcer. These are major challenges, and as a first step researchers should agree on certain larger messages on air pollution which can start influencing the current narrative.
The first presentation by CPR proposed five key messages which need to underlie our policy action going forward. First, based on currently available information and knowledge, there is no doubt that a significant population in India is exposed to air quality that is far more hazardous than nationally and internationally acceptable standards. Second, the problem of air pollution while substantially aggravated during episodic spikes, is in reality a year-round ‘base load’ problem and not one limited to seasonal spikes. Third, research shows that air pollution contributes to increasing morbidity and mortality, and also impacts cognitive abilities. Health impacts of air pollution are felt across all demographic groups, but are particularly severe for vulnerable groups like children and aged. Fourth, air pollution is a multi-source problem, and long term credible solutions lie in addressing all sources through in-depth sectoral strategies. Focussing on one or two sources may yield limited gains (that are likely to be off-set in the long term), and also risks unduly diverting the public’s attention away from the larger problem. Fifth, although government inaction and poor enforcement are an important part of the problem, and need to be addressed through effective accountability mechanisms, solutions now need to address the whole gamut of legal, regulatory capacity, behavioural, technological and financial concerns which arise in each sector.
The second presentation provided the empirical support for sectoral action through an overview of five research projects of the Centre for research on the Economics of Climate, Food, Energy and Environment (CECFEE) related to major sources of air pollution. The first research project is a randomised controlled trial to be conducted in 2019 to provide information on the adverse health impacts of solid fuels to increase usage of LPG in rural Madhya Pradesh. The second is a study of the effect of the use of electric induction stoves for cooking on air pollution in a few villages in rural Uttar Pradesh. The third shows that operating costs of coal-fired power plants are greater than the cost of new wind and solar PV once mortality due to air pollution is factored in. The fourth examines the effect of the wedge between diesel and petrol prices on dieselization of the vehicle fleet. The fifth project studies the impact of agricultural and forest fires on child stunting.
Solving India’s air pollution crisis will require sustained action. Both clear and consistent messages as well as sound research and analysis are key inputs to policy action. This panel aimed to make advances on both these fronts.
Navroz K Dubash is a Professor at CPR.
Shibani Ghosh is a Fellow at CPR.
E Somanathan is a Professor at the Indian Statistical Institute and Program Director for CECFEE.
Ritesh Kumar Singh is Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India.
Nitin Sethi is Senior Associate Editor, Business Standard.
Vinuta Gopal is Co-Founder and Director of Asar Social Impact Advisors.
The question and answer session that followed can be accessed here.
Coverage of the panel by ThePrint (digital partner for CPR Dialogues) can be accessed here.
The Centre for Policy Research, in collaboration with leading air pollution researchers, recently published a four-part op-ed series on India's air pollution in the Hindustan Times:
- Understanding the Curse of Air Pollution
- Public Health in India a Casualty of Air Pollution
- Delhi has a Complex Air Pollution Problem
- Air pollution: India waking up, but there’s a long way to go
Watch all other sessions of the Dialogues below:
- The International Climate Change Regime: Looking Back to Look Forward
- The Emerging World Order and India’s Role
- India’s Technology Transition: The Present and the Possible
- CPR Youth Awards: A Youth-Driven Agenda for Change
- India’s 21st Century Transitions
- Understanding India’s Energy Transition in Global Context
- Is the Urban Future Metropolitan? Big Cities in Urban Systems
- Geopolitics and Geo-Economics in a Changing South Asia