Delhi’s residents could hope to live 3.35 years longer if the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) is implemented and the reduction in air pollution is sustained, according to Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman professor in economics at University of Chicago and the director of the Energy Policy Institute (EPIC).
Greenstone is one of the creators of the Air Quality Life Index of AQLI which measures the impact of particulate matter pollution on life expectancy. According to Michael Greenstone, Delhi is among the most polluted cities in the world.
NCAP, which was launched by India’s environment minister Harsh Vardhan last week, aims to reduce the concentration of PM 2.5 (fine, respirable pollution particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micron) and PM 10 (coarse pollution particles) in 102 non-attainment cities (cities which didn’t meet the annual PM 10 national standard from 2011 to 2015) by 20% to 30% by 2024 over their 2017 annual average levels. NCAP was criticised by environmental experts for not having legally binding air pollution reduction targets. It aims to take a “participatory and collaborative” approach.
Greenstone said the targets could also be achieved by providing incentives or disincentives . “I think it’s terrifically important that the government get deeply engaged in air pollution reduction. NCAP reflects that the public is beginning to demand improvements in air quality. It’s an important step,” Greenstone said, adding that NCAP has very ambitious goals “As is so often the case here too, the devil is in the detail. I assume there will be a lot of hard work in successfully meeting those goals. Money helps focus people’s minds. Empower people to meet targets, give them incentives to deliver it.”
In the US, under the Clean Air Act, if states failed to get their counties to comply with standards, then the money to build highways was withheld. “What’s at stake here is an opportunity for people to live longer,” Greenstone added.
Greenstone who has worked with and tracked the air pollution reduction strategies in China for decades said India’s neighbour has achieved improvements through a “methodical focus.”
“In China, the work on air pollution was set out by the demands from the public. India is the biggest thriving democracy in the world; China has more of a single party rule. It’s been quite surprising to me how responsive the Chinese government has been to air pollution, even though China doesn’t have a history of democracy,” he said. According to Greenstone, China managed an unprecedented reduction in air pollution in a very short time.
“After the US passed the clean air act in 1970, it probably took 12 to 15 years for reduction in pollution in US to be as large as what China has achieved in only four years. The US had two or three vicious recessions in the midst of that but China has been growing. So it’s against backdrop of growth that it is especially interesting,” he said.
In China, officials who didn’t achieve the target in their city or district didn’t get promoted or were punished for not delivering on air pollution targets. Using satellite data, the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), a tool developed by EPIC for both India and China found that PM 2.5 levels air across China were down by 12% in 2016 compared to 2013 levels.
Greenstone recommends targeting the biggest polluters first through NCAP. “Go to the biggest polluters and fix them.” EPIC has been working with the Gujarat government for several years now on developing an emissions trading system for industries there. Taxes, cap and trade mechanisms could be used under NCAP too he said.