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Urban professionals bat for sustainability in India’s post-lockdown reopening: Survey

The national lockdown saw air quality indices across Indian cities soar as pollution dropped to levels not seen in decades. As India undertakes a graded exit from the lockdown, a new survey now indicates that improvements in air quality during the lockdown could drive major habitual and behavioural changes among urban officegoers.

The survey, conducted by YouGov and Climate Trends, included 1082 respondents spread across 10 Indian cities, all of whom could complete at least part of their official tasks remotely. Close to 40% of the sample for the survey works in the tech sector while another 25% were employed in banking and finance or education. The survey reports that an overwhelming 91% reported being affected by air pollution while about half of the respondents reported health ailments attributed to air pollution.

With a strong agreement among respondents that the recent restrictions on work and travel had led to environmental benefits including a reduction in air pollution, close to 70% of the respondents reported that they would like to continue working from home even after the lockdown ended with no less than 63% in any of the cities. While over three-fourths of those preferring a work-from-home model cited a wish to avoid crowds as a major reason, about two-thirds reported cleaner air and flexibility in scheduling as prominent reasons. While access to professional infrastructure, reduction in team bonding and irregularity in routines were reported as major challenges, 90% of the 455 employers surveyed reported savings on operational expenses through the work-from-home model.

Among steps respondents would consider to maintain better air quality in cities, almost half stated that they would be willing to buy an EV if charging infrastructure is made accessible and prices become affordable. Interestingly, over 40% also stated that they would consider public transport and shared transport options more often even though almost two-thirds also reported that avoiding public transport and associated risks of infection as a major advantage of working from home during the pandemic.

“The reduction of air pollution in the lockdown has shown the importance of tackling emissions at source. As the lockdown is getting eased, we hope to put in place supportive conditions like improving access and safety of using public transport, and making electric vehicles affordable. Both of these will contribute towards a long term improvement in Delhiā€™s air and we hope that we will come out wiser from the COVID crisis,” said Jasmine Shah, Vice Chairperson of Delhi government’s Dialogue and Development Commission at the launch of the survey.

“By making smart choices which look towards the future, expand environmental gains and improve quality of life, India can hope for a better outcome from this crisis. Reduced business travel will be the norm for the short and medium term. ‘Work-from-home’ is a large global experiment currently underway- if we can nail it right, the benefits will be across several levels of our society from improved productivity, to improved family interactions and cleaner liveable cities,” opined Navroz Dubash, a professor at the Centre for Policy Research.

As for steps the government should take to maintain the improved air quality during the lockdown, 65% of the respondents believed that authorities must initiate time-bound programmes for polluting industries. An average of Fifty-seven per cent and 59% of those surveyed also expressed support for prioritising electric vehicles for public transport and for incentivising private EV ownership with Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Pune scoring over 60% on both counts. The survey also revealed highest agreement on the use of green modes of transport and increase in public parks and trees as actions with high impacts on pollution levels.

The findings indicate strong public support for progressive policies on environment and urban mobility in line with global trends since the beginning of the pandemic. However, while time might be ripe for sustainability-oriented reform, governments and urban local bodies must reciprocate to capitalise.

Climate Trends is a funding partner of Carbon Copy