India, however, has continued to occupy the top spot in the world in SO2 emissions for the fifth consecutive year. Efforts to contain stubble burning in Haryana and Punjab are yet to bear fruit
India witnessed 6% decline in its sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions in 2019. It was the steepest decline in SO2 emissions in four years, which came on account of India's shift towards renewable energy initiatives, according to a report by Greenpeace India and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
“We are seeing a reduction in SO2 emissions in the top three emitter countries. In India, we’re getting a glimpse of how reduction in coal usage can impact air quality and health," said Avinash Chanchal, climate campaigner, Greenpeace India, on Thursday.
India, however, has continued to occupy the top spot in the world in SO2 emissions for the fifth consecutive year. SO2 is a poisonous air pollutant that increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and other health issues that can lead to premature death.
“In 2019, India emitted 21% of global anthropogenic (human-made) SO2 emissions, nearly double that of second-ranked global emitter, Russia. China occupies the third position," according to the report.
Among large cities, Chennai is one of the biggest emission hotspots in the country. Areas with thermal power stations, or such clusters, are most likely to be on this list. Singrauli, Neyveli, Sipat, Mundra, Korba, Bonda, Tamnar, Talcher,Jharsuguda, Kutch, Surat, Ramagundam, Chandrapur, Visakhapatnam and Koradi are listed as India’s biggest hotspots, in the report.
“In 2015, the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF&CC) introduced SO2 emission limits for coal power stations. But power plants missed the initial deadline of December," the report adds.
Chanchal says that India’s air quality is improving but is still "far from safe".
“In 2019, renewable energy capacity expanded, coal dependency decreased and we saw a corresponding improvement in air quality. But our air is still far from safe," Chanchal added.
While the covid-19 induced lockdown did give a breather to the over-exploitation of the environment, the pressure to resume operations at a faster pace to make up for lost business and time is bringing back the same level of pollution, experts say.
Efforts to contain stubble burning in Haryana and Punjab are yet to bear fruit.
There were 1,091 incidents of stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the first six days of October, according to data collated by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Indian Express reported on Thursday.
Pollution levels are slowly climbing in other cities across the country as well.
Traffic is back in all major cities of the country, especially in Bengaluru, which has over 8.5 million vehicles in an area just over 800 square kilometers. Vehicular pollution is the biggest cause for deteriorating air quality in India’s technology capital.
Construction and other activities have also begun in other parts of the country, adding to the steady rise in levels of pollution in urban areas.
“SO2 emissions are affecting the health of millions of people directly and worse through converting to PM2.5," Sunil Dahiya, Analyst, CREA, said.
“Every single day's delay in implementation of prescribed norms and not installing the FGD system is causing huge health and economic damage to our society. It is time the offenders/non-complying power plants are pulled up for inaction and damage to the society to ensure better implementation moving ahead," he adds.
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