Locking down the baseline: Air quality levels recorded during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown will be used by the Environment Ministry to set the baseline standards for air quality in India | Photo: TERI

India to set new air quality standards using Lockdown data as baseline

The air quality data from last year’s Covid-19 lockdown will be the baseline as India prepares to revise its air quality standards, a top environment ministry (MoEFCC) official said adding that India has baseline data to show what air quality can be like when anthropogenic emission sources are either absent or very low. 

The Central Pollution Control Board is working on revising the air quality standards in India with National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). Last month, the World Health Organization tightened its air quality guidelines bringing down the annual PM 2.5 (respirable pollution particles) guideline from 10 micrograms per cubic metres to 5 micrograms per cubic metres and the 24-hour PM 2.5 guideline from 25 micrograms per cubic metres to 15 micrograms per cubic metres. It has also tightened norms for five other pollutants based on recent evidence of health impacts associated with these pollutants.

India makes biomass pellet use mandatory in some coal power plants

To cut air pollution, India has made the use of biomass pellets mandatory in some coal-fired thermal power plants. Biomass pellets are made from agricultural waste that is otherwise burnt by farmers. Some categories of coal plants will have to blend 5% of biomass pellets along with coal. The ratio will increase to 7% within two years for two categories of power plants.

Farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh burn paddy stalks and straw during the winter season to prepare the ground for planting, causing severe air pollution.

Rising fuel cost, few seeder machines forcing Punjab farmers to burn crop residue? 

Farmers have started burning paddy stubble, one of the major causes of air pollution during winter in NCR. Over 1,160 farm fires were spotted between 1 Sept & 13 Oct’21 in Punjab according to a CEEW report. The report said despite years of efforts at crop diversification, paddy continues to dominate crops. The late-maturing PUSA 44 variety, infamous for its high straw load, is the dominant variety in districts with high burning, the report said. 

Experts said the use of stubble clearing machines such as happy seeders & super seeders have been “limited”, adding that even with 100% deployment, the machines would manage to clear just two-thirds of the total area under non-basmati paddy this year. Also, the rise in petrol and diesel prices has increased the operational costs of agricultural machinery by up to 8% compared to 2019.

Thirteen people die every minute because of air pollution: WHO report

Air pollution, primarily the result of burning fossil fuels, which also drives climate change, causes 13 deaths per minute worldwide, said the WHO COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health. 

Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health, said reducing air pollution to WHO guideline levels, would reduce the total number of global deaths from air pollution by 80%, while dramatically reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. The report spelled out the global health community’s prescription for climate action based on a growing body of research that establishes the many and inseparable links between climate and health.

Household cooking fuel major source of disease in developing countries: Study

A new global study found that household air pollution from using polluting cooking fuels and technologies is a major source of disease and environmental degradation in low- and middle-income countries. 

The researchers showed that 53% of the global population mainly used polluting cooking fuels in 1990, dropping to 36% in 2020. In urban areas, gaseous fuels currently dominate, with a growing reliance on electricity; in rural populations, high levels of biomass use persist alongside increasing use of gaseous fuels. Future projections of observed trends suggested 31% will still mainly use polluting fuels in 2030, including over 1 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025.

Global estimates were based mainly using six fuel categories (electricity, gaseous fuels, kerosene, biomass, charcoal, coal) and overall polluting/clean fuel use—from 1990-2020 and with urban/rural disaggregation. Overall, household air pollution accounts for some 3.8 million premature deaths annually. 

Draft electricity rules propose 24×7 uninterrupted power to kill use of diesel generators

In a move to curb air pollution from diesel generators (DGs), the recently released draft electricity rules said DISCOMs should ensure 24×7 uninterrupted power supply to all consumers so that there is no requirement of running diesel generators. The government could consider allowing DISCOMs to levy reliability charges, if it required funds for investment in infrastructure.

The rules also talked about a five-year period being given to consumers who used DGs for back-up power, to change over to cleaner sources including solar with battery storage. The rules stated that connection should be given within 48 hours to reduce reliance on DGs. This would avoid any use of DG sets for temporary activities in the area of the distribution licensee.

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