India overtakes Chinas air pollution levels in 2015, needs national response

NASA satellite data analysis shows India’s pollution levels higher than China in 2015

Press release - February 22, 2016
New Delhi 22nd February 2016|- For the first time this century, the average particulate matter exposure was higher for Indian citizens than that of Chinese people, a Greenpeace analysis of NASA satellite data on particulate matter has shown. China’s strong measures to curb pollution have contributed to the biggest year-on-year air quality improvement on record; while in contrast, India’s pollution levels continued a decade-long increase to reach the highest level on record.

As per World Health Organisation (WHO), India is home to 13 out of 20 most polluted cities in the world with deteriorating air pollution levels during past decade, particularly in North India. Greenpeace, in its National Air Quality Index ranking report , had revealed that as many as fifteen of the seventeen Indian cities with NAQI stations showed levels of air pollution that far exceeded the prescribed Indian standards. The report also reveals that 23 of the 32 stations across India are showing more than 70 percent exceedance of the national standards, putting public health at risk.

The most important aspect to fight air pollution is a robust system to curb air pollution in public domain that empowers people to take action to safeguard their health, and the government to issue red alerts during bad air days and take policy decisions in the long term. In China for instance, the particulate pollution levels rose an estimated 20 percent between 2005 and 2011 . Due to growing dependence on fossil fuels, the Chinese situation had been deteriorating. However, after adopting a comprehensive National Action Plan in 2013 with strong policies and stricter enforcement; China’s particulate trend started bending, as 2015 witnessed a fall of 15 percent as compared to 2014.

India’s National Air Quality Index network, with 39 operating stations as of writing, compares poorly with the 1,500 stations in China. The satellite images until 2005 showed India’s pollution, while serious, was lot lower than eastern China’s. In 2015, India particulate pollution stands higher than of China’s, after increasing at an average rate of 2 percent over the past decade.

“There is an urgent need to set a deadline for meeting the national air quality standards with long term and interim targets and action plans. The plan should have mechanism to monitor the progress and empower authorities to take actions on compliance and noncompliance of the targets. The air pollution crisis is an opportunity to test India’s emergency response plan and design coordinated action for a ‘Clean Air Nation,” said Sunil Dahiya, Campaigner, Greenpeace India

Talking on the India-China pollution scenario, Lauri Myllyvirta, air pollution specialist with Greenpeace East Asia said, “China is an example of how determined policies and tougher enforcement can turn the tide on air pollution to people’s benefit. The Indian government needs to have plans to avoid the same disastrous health impact due air pollution has had in China. Given that the pollution travels hundreds of kilometers, there should be national, regional and city level action plans with measurable targets to lower pollution levels.”

India needs to lay down a focused and time bound action plan to mitigate air pollution crisis. Recently, the governments have introduced multiple conscious steps such as the Odd-Even policy, car free day, and stricter emission standards for thermal power plants and moving to Bharat VI vehicle emission norms by April 2020. There must be a comprehensive regional and city action plan contributing to the National Clean Air plan.

Madhulika Verma;
Communication Specialist, Greenpeace India, ; +91 9971137736

Avinash Chanchal: Communication Specialist, Greenpeace India
; + 91 8882153664

Sunil Dahiya: Campaigner, Greenpeace India, ;
+91 9013673250