Trump's 'filthy air' remark exposes India's poor pollution control: Experts

New Delhi's India Gate monument stands shrouded in smog in 2019. (Bloomberg)
US President Donald Trump’s description of India as a place with “filthy air” may be seen as an attempt to showcase his country in better light, but several climate change experts believe this should make Indian policymakers sit up and take notice.

Trump on Thursday called India, China and Russia as countries with filthy air. Responding to Joe Biden, Trump’s rival in the presidential race, on his climate policies, the US president said, “Look at China, how filthy it is. Look at Russia, look at India — it's filthy. The air is filthy.” Karthik Ganesan, research fellow at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), said the US president has called out an important issue. “India does not value the life of all its citizens enough and definitely not of the poor who suffer the consequences of pollution. We are not making energy or consumption any cheaper by cutting corners in the way we treat its impact on the environment.”

India released its National Clean Air Programme in 2019 to reduce outdoor PM2.5 levels by 2024.  According to the State of Global Air report 2020 by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease project, India accounted for the highest increase in deaths caused by high PM2.5 levels in the air.

Kanchi Kohli, senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Research, said the comment by Trump is doublespeak as vehicular emission and per capita energy consumption are issues many western countries face, including the US. She, however, added that the pollution crisis in India is in part a failure of environment governance. “It is deeply entrenched with how we manage land-use planning, prioritise water use and how seriously we take environment regulation and safeguards. If we locate the air pollution crisis in India within this context, there is little to defend factually. Our environmental quality indices and local conflicts speak for themselves,” said Kohli, citing the worsening air quality in Delhi-NCR.

The Air Quality Index in Delhi touched the “very poor category” on Friday with PM2.5 levels at 364. “There are severely polluted areas in many heavily industrialised and mining geographies across India. Many of these are forgotten in both policy solutions and campaign slogans,” she said.
Some climate change experts believe India has not made enough attempts to fight climate change. The Global Air Report said air pollution is now the highest risk in India and contributes to more than 116,000 infant deaths.

A lack of comprehensive policy to tackle emissions and climate change impact is still missing in India. India cannot avoid climate change action in the garb of being a developing nation, said a Delhi-based activist.

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