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To cut Delhi’s air pollution, pinpoint the source

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By Eric Dodge & Rohini Pande

This winter, Delhi’s government and the judiciary have implemented several policies aimed at cutting the national capital’s air pollution. The just-concluded odd-even scheme in the city required motorists to find alternative means of transportation every other day.

Car-free days, first in Gurgaon and then in Delhi, appeared to cause a temporary dip in pollution levels. The night hours when trucks can pass through Delhi have been reduced, and the National Green Tribunal has issued a direction to lower truck traffic coming into the city at night by levying an additional entrance fee.

On some days the air may be clearer. But what remains hazy is where Delhi’s air pollution comes from. Over the years, multiple attempts to find out – called source apportionment studies – have yielded contradictory results. There are numerous suspects: cars and trucks, smokestacks, farm fires in Punjab and Haryana, and dust from construction sites to name just a few. Without a better knowledge of the portion contributed by different sources, any policy response, no matter how bold, will be a little like a blind attempt to pin the tail on the donkey.

But that may be changing. The Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur (IIT-K) has now released a major study, commissioned by the Delhi environment department in 2011. This promises to give the clearest picture of source apportionment yet. And other new sources of quality information on air pollution are appearing: the government has plans to add 10 new air quality monitoring stations in Delhi, and news outlets are setting up their own monitoring systems, including IndiaSpend #Breathe.

This could be a turning point in our understanding of the sources of Delhi’s deadly air, as well as our ability to craft smart policies that shut them down. We at Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) are researchers who assist government ministries in formulating such responses. We think that at a time like this – a critical convergence of public concern, policymaker attention, and academic contribution – it’s worth taking stock of what we know now and how we came to know it. That clarity will make it easier to guide the discussion toward a policy response that will stick.

There are two ways of conducting source apportionment studies: direct sampling based on chemical analysis, and secondary data analysis based on monitoring data. The international best practice is to rely on receptor-based studies, but where budgetary constraints inhibit adequate sampling, analysis using secondary data may dominate.

Over the past 10 years, and excluding the just completed IIT-K study, we count 15 source apportionment studies that sought to pinpoint the sources of emissions and their respective contributions to Delhi’s overall air pollution. Ten are based on direct sampling; the other five rely on secondary data. While the main sources identified are similar across studies, the relative weights placed on different sources by these studies vary dramatically. This underscores both the difficulty of conducting them and the wide range in the quality of the studies currently available.

Getting a reliable picture of air pollution is inherently difficult due to Delhi’s changing weather conditions and constantly shifting patterns of emissions throughout the day, week, and year. Moreover, some of the most important pollution sources lie outside the National Capital Region. This makes it important that direct air sampling studies are broad enough to capture multiple sources and take samples at several different time points. An inability to do this-largely due to budgetary considerations-and the resulting differences in what gets sampled are an important part of the explanation for the large differences across studies.

In such situations, secondary data-based analysis may well be the best option for source apportionment studies, as long as these secondary sources are reliable and span relevant emission sources. Right now, we lack a measure of whether that is the case. Without standardized best practices about which secondary data sources to use and which model to use, source apportionment studies will continue to give conflicting results going forward.

So, we not only lack the best information on pollution, we also lack consensus on how to determine the second best. (IANS/IndiaSpend.org) (Photo: social.yourstory.com)

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Maharashtra’s climate action plan yielded disappointments

Broadly speaking, the plan discusses the impact of climate change on six sectors -- agriculture, water resources, health, forests and biodiversity, livelihoods, and energy and infrastructure.

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Climate action plans were not up to the mark. Pixabay
Climate action plans were not up to the mark. Pixabay
  • The Maharashtra climate action plan yields huge disappointments as it failed to recognize crucial issues in its implementation.
  • The issues like air pollution and damage through thunderstorms and lightening were ignored.
  • The plan only focused on six major factors.

Mumbai, Jan 1: Eight years after the Centre’s direction to formulate a state action plan on climate change, and seven years after awarding the contract for a comprehensive vulnerability assessment study, the Maharashtra cabinet has finally adopted a plan on climate change.

Titled ‘Assessing Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Strategies for Maharashtra: Maharashtra State Action Plan on Climate Change, and prepared by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the action plan assesses vulnerability of the state to changing climate and outlines broad and ambitious strategies for building a climate-resilient future.

Rice Farm, Farming, Agriculture, Farm
Action plan focuses on 6 major factors, including agriculture. Pixabay

The action plan, built on high resolution modelling for which TERI entered into a partnership with the UK Met Office, projects changes in temperature and rainfall across the state at a resolution of about 25 km by 25 km for time periods 2030s, 2050s and 2070s — with the average climate during 1970-2000 as the model’s baseline.

An important component of the action plan is the Macro Level Vulnerability Index based on 19 indicators, which has identified the most vulnerable districts in Maharashtra: Nandurbar is the most climate change-vulnerable district, followed by Dhule and Buldhana. Satara is regarded as the least vulnerable district. Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg are also considered less vulnerable to changes in the climate. The state government has announced setting up a panel of experts to oversee the implementation of the report.

India, Mumbai, Bombay, Tourism
Issues related to thunderstorm and lightening were not taken into consideration. Pixabay

But, meteorologists and environment experts aren’t satisfied with the action plan. “The state has taken considerable time to come up with its adaptation plan on climate change. But the plan misses out on some crucial weather events, such as thunderstorm and lightning, that are linked to climatic changes. Air pollution, an important environment factor, is also missing from the plan,” said Akshay Deoras, Nagpur-based meteorologist.

Ashok Jaswal, former scientist with the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Pune, stresses that an effective state action plan should include all direct and indirect climatic parameters.

“Air pollutants are aerosols and have their own different properties. Some are salt-based, whereas others are carbon-based, or dust, or smoke. Some reflect solar radiation, whereas others trap heat,” he said. “These aerosols influence cloud formation, rainfall and the overall climate, and must be a part of the state action plan on climate change.”

Broadly speaking, the plan discusses the impact of climate change on six sectors — agriculture, water resources, health, forests and biodiversity, livelihoods, and energy and infrastructure. It also makes projections for rainfall and temperature in the state; and assesses the future sea level rise. A section in the plan is dedicated to extreme rainfall, flooding and adaptation in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

The document shows that temperature and rainfall are projected to increase all over the state with some regional variations. Amravati division (Vidarbha region) and Aurangabad division (Marathwada region) are going to experience greater rise in annual mean temperatures than other parts of the state.

The projected increase in annual mean temperature for Amravati is expected to be 1.44-1.64 degree C, 2.2-2.35 degree C, and 3.06-3.46 degree C in 2030s, 2050s and 2070s, respectively. For the same time periods, the projected annual mean temperature increase for Aurangabad division is 1.44-1.56 degree C, 2.15-2.3 degree C, and 3.14-3.38 degree C, respectively. An increase in temperature is likely to lead to a decrease in yields for some crops, such as rice, sorghum and cotton.

Minimum temperature is also projected to increase, particularly in the divisions of Konkan, Pune and Nashik, which could have an adverse impact on crops sensitive to high night temperatures in the reproductive phase, such as grain growth in rice or tuberisation in potatoes, warns the state action plan.

The government's efforts came up short. Pixabay
The government’s efforts came up short. Pixabay

The action plan notes that an increase in temperature will be conducive to malaria-transmitting mosquitoes in eastern and coastal (Thane and Raigad regions) Maharashtra in 2030s. By the 2050s, a faster rate of parasite development will take place in Aurangabad, Jalna and Nashik districts.

Since a warmer atmosphere has a higher capacity to hold water vapour, it will lead to intense rainfall events with longer dry or low rainfall spells in between. Extreme rainfall is projected to increase in all regions of the state with greater increases in the northern parts of the state.

Meanwhile, parts of south-central Maharashtra are projected to experience more dry days in the 2030s as compared to the baseline. These districts of Marathwada are already prone to recurring droughts and infamous for farmers’ suicides.

“The findings… clearly describe the adverse impacts of climate change on all regions of the state. The report shows the worrying trend of an increase in extreme weather events and heavy precipitation days,” said Parineeta Dandekar, associate co-ordinator of the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People.

“Increased rainfall will lead to heavy flooding, which will have a direct bearing on the state’s water infrastructure. But, the action plan fails to elaborate upon ways to manage the water infrastructure in times of climate change.”

Lightning is listed as a state-specific disaster in Maharashtra, but the state action plan makes no mention of lightning, which is linked to climatic changes. “Rising temperature means more evaporation and high moisture content in the atmosphere, which leads to more thunderstorm activity and an increased incidence of lightning,” explained Jaswal.

A recent study, ‘Distribution of Lightning Casualities over Maharashtra’, has examined lightning deaths in the state between 1979 and 2011 and found 2,363 casualties from 455 lighting events. On an average 72 casualties per year have been reported with significant increasing trend.

“It is shocking that in spite of so many lives being lost each year due to lightning, the state action plan does not even mention the terms thunderstorm and lightning. Unless the plan acknowledges these weather events, how will the state government manage such disasters?” questioned Deoras.

The action plan does take note of the adverse impacts of hailstorm on horticulture crops in the state. For instance, it notes that hailstorms destroyed the grape crop in 2008-09. In 2010, almost 15 percent of the orange crop was destroyed due to rising heat and untimely hailstorm. But it fails to provide pointed information on ways to minimise impact on crops.

The action plan also makes no mention of air pollution. “Not including air pollution in the state climate action plan is a major drawback and the same must be rectified at the earliest,” said Jaswal.

Dandekar stresses on the need for translating action points into swift action. “The recommendations should not remain on paper, but must be included in the various state policies for immediate implementation,” she said. Deoras recommends setting up of a committee to reframe the action plan, by including the above-mentioned points, and then working towards the plan’s implementation by providing specific directions. IANS