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That time again: Delhi’s air quality could spiral downward again as crop residue burning commences in surrounding areas, despite the practice being illegal | Photo: Livemint

Despite ban, and awareness campaigns, crop burning resumes in Punjab, Haryana and UP

The dreaded season of crop burning began early this year compared to last year. Farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh are burning the residue of the summer harvest of paddy, to prepare the fields for the winter crop of wheat. This smoke annually spikes up the pollution in Delhi, the city infamous for its deadly winter air pollution. NASA satellites captured several red dots, indicating burning of crop residue, over the districts of Amritsar, Ludhiana and Patiala in Punjab, and Karnal, Kurukshetra and Ambala in Haryana and some places in western Uttar Pradesh. 

Punjab pollution control board officials said the farmers sowed crops 10 days earlier than the sanctioned date of June 10, which has resulted in early harvests. Last year, Punjab had given 13,000 stubble management machines to farmers that reportedly reduced the smoke by 10%, but the Haryana awareness campaign is hardly making any difference. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has decided to launch odd-even traffic scheme for two weeks in November to counter the crop burning smog. Meanwhile, the country’s apex pollution control authority EPCA issued orders to monitor pollution hotspots in Delhi to prevent industrial units burning “unauthorised fuels” such as plastic and rubber waste, furnace oil, coal and chemicals.

Except coal plants, 95% of Delhi industrial units shift to CNG: Govt study

The Delhi government said 95% of its industrial units have shifted from oil and coal to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) over a period of just three months, reducing air pollution in the Capital. According to government think-tank Dialogue and Development Commission, of the 1,542 industrial units in Delhi that ran on either oil or coal, 1,457 shifted to CNG in one quarter. Delhi’s CM Arvind Kejriwal has controversially claimed that Delhi’s air pollution has dipped 25% in the past three years. The Delhi government also gave compensation of ₹ 50,000 to small industries and ₹ 1 lakh to big units for converting from polluted chemical-powered units to CNG. Kejriwal is expected to share his experience of bringing Delhi’s pollution levels down at the C40 World Mayors Summit to be hosted at Copenhagen, Denmark, between October 9 and 12. 

Rs. 69,000 crore corpus being planned to tackle urban air pollution

The 15th finance commission is reportedly working on a plan to free up ₹ 69,000 crore to incentivise local urban bodies and link central funding to performance of air quality improvement measures. The corpus is being planned in consultation with the environment ministry which has proposed “performance grants” linked to action limiting PM10 pollution. The ministry has also proposed reserving 60% of the grants for states in the Indo-Gangetic plains considering inherent disadvantages of their geographic location when it comes to air quality. 

Haryana govt dragged to court as tonnes of fly ash choke residents

Miles away from the national capital of Delhi, a Haryana government coal plant has become a massive source of fly ash pollution for the residents of Faridabad. India’s green court has ordered the Haryana pollution control board and the Faridabad District Magistrate to submit a report about “Several lakh tonnes of fly ash dumped …causing severe air pollution in six colonies and villages”. The plant was shut down in 2011, but, in 2016, the government allowed fly ash to be transported to other places from the spot.

Smoke from forest fires turn Indonesia into stifling blood red planet

In Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, smoke from forest fires turned the sky blood red in sunlight. Residents found it difficult to breathe under the thick smog from forest fires burning for months now. The fires are a result of slash-and-burn farm fires as an El Nino weather pattern exacerbates the annual dry season and helps create a haze across the region, Reuters reported. Scientists attribute red skies to the presence of aerosols (solid or liquid particles suspended in air) that can originate from forest fires, dust kicked up by sandstorms, sea spray or volcanic eruptions, among other things. Indonesia’s meteorology agency said there had been very thick smoke in the Muaro Jambi area of Sumatra last weekend with satellite analysis revealing many hot spots.

The Indonesian fires have impacted the air of neighbouring Kuala Lumpur that was ranked among the world’s most polluted cities, as wind brought ash and smoke from illegal burning of forests and farmland. In Singapore, air quality levels deteriorated to unhealthy.

China planning stricter emission targets to tackle autumn-winter pollution

China’s environment ministry has announced that it is planning to introduce new stricter emissions standards for cities, targeting those that were heavily affected by PM pollution last year. However, cities that met last year’s targets will be exempt from the stricter norms, according to the ministry spokesperson. According to a draft for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei zone, the capital is expected to achieve zero emission growth while the other 27 cities would be required to cut PM 2.5 emissions by 1-11%. The new targets are being planned for the autumn-winter heating seasons which sees heavy pollution and smog envelope several cities in the country.

Governments and philanthropists form coalitions to reduce outdoor air pollution 

The New York climate action summit witnessed key declarations to curb air pollution. WHO launched the Clean Air Coalition led by Spain and Peru, while a group of big philanthropic organizations launched a new Clean Air Fund with $50 million in initial funding and a goal of raising a total of $100 million. The funders: IKEA Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Bernard van Leer Foundation, Oak Foundation, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the FIA Foundation, aim to spur investment to reduce outdoor air pollution, which also contributes to climate change.  The UN body the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) also agreed to “significantly reduce” short-lived climate pollutants by 2030. 

The CCAC’s target is to achieve beyond the recommendations made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its special report Global Warming of 1.5˚ C. According to the report, there need to be considerable cuts in emissions of black carbon (35% by 2030), methane (37% by 2030) and HFCs (70% to 80% by 2050) if we are to keep warming below 1.5˚C.