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Clearing the Air: Beijing's Success in Tackling Toxicity Raises Questions for New Delhi


"Choking on Change: New Delhi's Annual Battle with Smog Raises Questions on Beijing's Success

Over 20 million residents in New Delhi awoke last week to a dense, acrid smog that triggered school closures, traffic restrictions, and halted construction. The city's Air Quality Index (AQI) surpassed 500, a level experts warn could significantly reduce life expectancy. While this scenario is an annual recurrence, prompting authorities to implement pollution control measures, the question remains: why does New Delhi grapple with its air quality crisis every year without substantial change?

Jyoti Pande Lavakare, author and co-founder of the clean air non-profit Care for Air, describes air pollution as an "invisible killer" with a notable absence of political will to address the issue. The current situation in New Delhi draws parallels with Beijing's struggle about a decade ago when the Chinese capital was notorious for its thick smog. However, Beijing has since successfully tackled its air pollution problem, leading to a noteworthy improvement in air quality.

Both India and China experienced rapid industrialization and urbanization, propelling them into the ranks of economic superpowers. This growth, however, came at an environmental cost, with a heavy reliance on fossil fuels and emission-intensive industries contributing to severe air pollution.

Beijing's turnaround prompts the question: If Beijing can clean up its toxic air, why can't India? The success story of the Chinese capital highlights the potential for transformative change, raising expectations and challenging India to address its annual smog crisis with the urgency and commitment needed to safeguard public health."

"The Clear Path Forward: Beijing's Success in Tackling Air Pollution Sparks Calls for Change in New Delhi

A pivotal moment in Beijing's battle against air pollution occurred in 2013 when the U.S. embassy in Beijing began publishing its own air quality data, creating awareness among the Chinese public and raising eyebrows among officials. This marked the beginning of a transformative journey for China, as the government invested billions of dollars in a national air pollution action plan. The subsequent decade witnessed the rollout of stringent regulations, including restrictions on vehicles in major cities, enhanced environmental oversight, the establishment of a nationwide air monitoring system, and curbing emissions from coal and other heavy-polluting industries.

Frank Christian Hammes, Global CEO of IQAir, noted that Beijing took the issue seriously, evident in the widespread shift to electrification, the abandonment of coal in restaurants and street food vendors, and a transition to gas for power generators. China's proactive measures led to a remarkable improvement in air quality, with pollution levels in 2021 falling by 42% compared to 2013, according to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. Beijing, once among the world's worst polluted cities, now ranks 27th globally in air quality.

While acknowledging China's success, research warns of the ongoing challenge, with Beijing's particulate pollution still 40% higher than the most polluted county in the United States. Nevertheless, the data underscores China's positive trajectory. As New Delhi grapples with recurring air quality crises, experts, including Sunil Dahiya from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), emphasize the need for India to adopt a reduction-based approach similar to Beijing's proactive and long-term measures. Beijing's success story serves as a beacon of hope for India, prompting calls for transformative change to safeguard public health."

"A Persistent Haze: Battling Air Pollution Challenges in New Delhi

As the winter harvest concludes, millions of farmers in India traditionally resort to burning leftover rice stubble, contributing to the annual smog crisis in northern states and the capital, New Delhi. Vehicular and industrial pollution exacerbate the issue, while tens of millions of households continue using cheap and harmful fuels for cooking. Despite the nationwide Clean Air Programme launched in 2019, aiming to reduce particulate matter concentration by 40% by 2025-26, progress has been slow due to lax enforcement and coordination.

New Delhi's attempts to combat pollution include sprinkling water on roads, traffic restrictions based on license plates, and the installation of smog towers. However, the city's average PM2.5 concentration has remained relatively consistent from 2018 to 2022, with New Delhi consistently topping the list of the world's most polluted cities. The city plans to induce rain as a solution, mirroring approaches in other Asian countries, but the effectiveness remains uncertain.

While some Indian cities show improvement, the overall challenge persists. Experts highlight the need to address underlying issues like biomass burning and transitioning to cleaner fuels. Comparisons with China's success in tackling air pollution underscore the challenges posed by India's democratic system, where quick adherence to directives is more challenging. The quest for cleaner air in New Delhi demands not just short-term fixes but a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to address the root causes of air pollution."

"A Political Quagmire: New Delhi's Struggle Against Air Pollution Amid Leadership Blame Game

The perennial crisis of air pollution in New Delhi reveals a troubling lack of national concern and systemic failures, according to experts. Comparing India's situation to Beijing's decisive action against pollution, Jyoti Pande Lavakare from Care for Air emphasizes that achieving a similar outcome is feasible in India but requires a genuine commitment, which seems absent. Publicly, local and national leaders engage in a blame game, with Delhi's Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal facing accusations of inaction and insensitivity. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party accuses Kejriwal's team of ineffectiveness, while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) retaliates, claiming a lack of federal support.

The Supreme Court, expressing frustration at political bickering, urged authorities to take immediate action, including a ban on fireworks ahead of Diwali and curbing crop burning. However, the blame game persists, with little progress evident in implementing effective policies. Sunil Dahiya from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) notes that air pollution is losing momentum in political agendas, overshadowed by other concerns. While citizens face daily challenges, political attention seems sporadic, exacerbating the ongoing crisis. As Diwali celebrations contributed to increased pollution levels, New Delhi began the week as the world's most polluted city, emphasizing the pressing need for sustained and coordinated efforts to address this critical issue."

"Unbearable Consequences: The Lingering Impact of New Delhi's Air Pollution Crisis

As New Delhi grapples with the perennial crisis of air pollution, experts warn of devastating consequences for the most vulnerable population. Frank Christian Hammes from IQAir expresses concern that the ongoing pollution is robbing an entire generation of a fighting chance, with severe and lasting effects on health. Jyoti Pande Lavakare from Care for Air emphasizes that people stand to lose years off their lives, raising the profound question of how individuals and society grapple with such an overwhelming reality. The toll of air pollution on public health extends far beyond immediate concerns, posing a long-lasting challenge that demands urgent attention and concerted efforts to mitigate its impact on the well-being of future generations."

"In conclusion, New Delhi's persistent struggle with air pollution underscores not only the immediate health risks but also the profound and lasting consequences for the city's vulnerable population. As experts from IQAir and Care for Air express deep concern over the potential lifelong impact and the loss of years off people's lives, the urgency for comprehensive and sustained measures becomes apparent. The blame game among local and national leaders, coupled with sporadic political attention, exacerbates the crisis. The ongoing struggle serves as a stark reminder of the need for genuine commitment, systemic change, and a coordinated effort to safeguard public health and mitigate the long-term effects of air pollution in the Indian capital."