During the final presidential debate, US President Donald Trump called India's air filthy along with that of Russia and China in response to a question on how he would combat climate change while ensuring job growth.
Trump went on to falsely claim that the US has the lowest number of carbon emissions in the world after withdrawing from the Paris Climate accord. However, the New York Times has estimated that the US will emit more than 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases by 2035.
While his claims about the US' carbon emissions records are false, his statement that India's poor air quality has truth in it. According to State of Global Air 2020 report, about 116,000 infants died due to air pollution in India within the first month of being born in 2019.
The report also found that long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to over 1.67 million annual deaths through strokes, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer, chronic lung diseases and neonatal diseases.
Deep-rooted sector reforms and a nationalized approach to reducing carbon emissions is the need of the hour in India, according to Anumita Roy Chowdhury Executive Director, Research and Advocacy at the Center for Science and Environment.
Edited excerpts from the interview
Anumita Roy Chowdhury: Let me first put on record the fact what Trump has said. Trump is saying India's air filthy, but in the same breath, he is also on a denial on climate, that is certainly not acceptable. So that's not science, that politics, so we don't even want to get there. But we are fighting our own local battle on pollution. And that's something that we have to understand. And we need to do everything to clean up the air of India. So let's understand that. And this is really turning out to be a very big battle, and particularly keeping in mind, the new state of global air report that we got yesterday. And you may have seen the numbers, they are shocking.
What it's showing is that since 2010, particulate matter related deaths have gone up by 61% in India, and India's also recording the highest share of death among infants, the new born babies because of air pollution. 24% of global deaths of infants in India. So that's clearly showing that this is an health emergency in India. And we are still not near what it takes to clean up the air. And we know from the data, that 95% Indians are breathing air quality, which just not satisfy the WHO guidelines, and therefore you're seeing this kind of health impact. The health impact nationwide, is one just about the northern India or Delhi, it's about entire country not being able to meet what is needed to meet the health-based standards.
When Trump talks about emissions being the lowest in many years, is that true in America?
ARC: We will make a distinction. The local air pollution in the US and that we know just not about us, the developed world has cleaned up significantly. But even after the cleanup, just understand the challenge from the same state of global report that us is still experiencing more than 400,000 deaths a year due to air pollution related diseases. So, don't think that they have eliminated the problem. The problem is smaller than us, right.
But the bigger and that's what we call the US being the climate rogue. And you know that Trump in the past few years has rolled back some of the most significant regulations needed to reduce the impact of the climate impacts. The field economy, regulations, and so forth. So clearly, that track record is something that we are worried about, and you know, getting out of the Paris Accord and not having a global commitment and not believing in the multilateralism of global solution and mitigation, that isolationism in there when that when we have to fight this scourge at a global scale, that certainly is not acceptable. We want much higher level of ambition from the US today. And that's why the US elections have become so critical, just not for the US.
Why is it that we are not making significant progress and we continue to be bracketed as a filthy place?ARC: Let's understand this very clearly. And here, the scale and speed of action that is needed across all pollution sectors. And I mean, vehicles, industry, power plant, waste, construction, the key sources of pollution across India. And if we look at the kind of systemic reforms that are needed in each sector today, we are certainly lagging behind. But it's not only about the negatives, we have to understand a much more complex story than that. It's not about that India is not doing anything, it's not such a simple narrative. A lot is happening because as you know that today India is the only vehicle producing country in the world that has leapfrogged directly from BS-4 emission standards to a BS-6 emission standard in the shortest possible time. India has also done a huge combat against the household air pollution expanding clean energy access for people. So there are classes, there's some movement in some sectors, but at the same time, we are lagging behind in many sectors. And that's what is coming out very clearly.
Just to illustrate the point, if I give you the example of Delhi. Because Delhi kind of mirrors the national challenge. Delhi is the only city in this country, which has done quite a good job. It has shut down all coal power plants, banned old vehicles, entire public transport on natural gas, natural gas use has expanded in the industrial sector, there is a restriction on truck entry, only a city to have notified clean fuel policy, does not allow dirty fuels like coal, petrol. Now with that change, Delhi has been able to bend the pollution curve over a period of time on year on year basis, it's not going up. But even after that decline, we still have to reduce pollution by 60% to be able to meet that linear standard.
Now imagine, that if after moving your entire public transport to natural gas, shutting power plants are not small measures. Now even after doing all of that, if they still have to reduce pollution by yet another 60%, just imagine the scale and the speed of action that is needed in all sectors. And that's why the lockdown experience of blue sky is so so illustrative and tells us what is needed because the lockdown showed us that is only when you have cleaned up across all regions, when you have minimized the regional influence on local pollution and kill local pollution, only then you see blue sky. And therefore, today in Delhi what we find that despite these different changes, there are still some big gaps.
Like Delhi, other cities are still struggling to fix its transportation strategy. As a result, the personal vehicles numbers are exploding and we don't have any solution for that. Waste burning. The municipal governance is absolutely not up to that mark to be able to do the maximum waste collection and disposal across all neighborhoods. The informal sector, the small industrial units, who still do not have access to affordable clean fuel, so burning dirty fuels. Now, these require very deep-rooted sector reforms. The power plants which are supposed to meet the new standards they are continuously delaying because you have not been able to find the sectoral reforms of this form of making this projects, bankable pollution control effort, you know, this whole economics behind it. So that's where the whole problem is today.
Trump referred to two other countries, Russia and China. Are we doing better than these two countries?
ARC: On Russia, we do not have very clear information. But on China, yes. And as you know that, I mean, despite all what's going on, that China has kind of taken a lot more disciplined approach towards controlling pollution and today they have verifiable improvement with their five-year plan, which they adopted in 2013. Now, by 2017-18, they've actually over-exceeded their target of 25% reduction. They have actually achieved about 40% reduction in pollution.
We know that today when the satellite mapping is happening of pollution across regions of the world. We are seeing a lot better cleanup that has happened across China. But still, if you look at the total number of people still dying because of air pollution related diseases, then China is still at the top. But that's what brings out the complexity of the problem. China has seen 40% reduction in pollution. But even after that, they're still struggling hard. But they certainly have a lot better reduction to report nationwide and region-wise. In India, it is still localized.