Opinion

Battling air pollution

Nitin Prasad/TP Chopra | Updated on September 13, 2021

Solving this is crucial for economic growth

Indian cities are some of the most polluted in the world. Almost two million people die prematurely due to air pollution in India.

Even as the country recovers from the second wave of Covid, it continues to face a serious air pollution crisis. While the government has taken positive steps to address the issue, with the launch of the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) in 2020 and the allocation of ₹2,217 crore towards tackling air pollution in 2021, air pollution is still rising.

A new report from Dalberg Advisors estimates that the Indian economy lost about 3 per cent of its GDP due to air pollution in 2019.

Looking beyond the increase in healthcare expenses from pollution-related diseases, this number encompasses the multiple adverse effects of pollution on both the demand and supply sides of the economy. The costs of air pollution are too high to ignore.

India has achieved some commendable milestones under the Paris Agreement goals of 2015. Businesses can use the wealth of evidence available to build an emission-free developmental environment. Climate change and air pollution are intimately linked because many of the underlying drivers are the same. Controlling fossil fuel combustion within the industrial processes will significantly contribute to both clean air action as well as climate change mitigation.

IT firms’ initiatives to combat pollution through investments in hiring talent and developing better infrastructure may drive down cost competitiveness without solving for air pollution.

For example, India’s 33 per cent cost advantage over the Philippines — another emerging Asian IT hub — could quickly be diminished as expenditure on air purifiers and other measures drive up the cost per worker.

Air pollution is, therefore, eroding the circuitry in IT hardware at a faster rate. Still, it is also threatening to corrode Digital India’s competitive advantage.

There are several steps that Indian businesses can take to curtail air pollution. While so far, the focus of most CSR has been on improving livelihoods, education, healthcare and women empowerment, adding air quality to the interventions can help bring a holistic approach.

Furthermore, measuring the level of air pollution across the company’s supply chain and manufacturing operations can help keep a check on emissions. Collating data on key major pollutants emitting out of a company’s in-house processes will be crucial to monitor its carbon footprint. Promoting this practice also among vendors and suppliers can help spread a wider net to the priority of controlling air pollution. Lastly, communicating the importance of controlling the emission levels can help bring clarity on what the company is doing and ensure transparency.

For a pollution-free future

A pathway that tackles air pollution and climate change is crucial considering November’s COP26 , where countries will turn the focus on securing Net Zero by 2050.

Covid lockdowns demonstrated that with action blue skies is possible for our cities and can have an almost immediate impact on air quality. We now have a unique opportunity to promote a green economy. We must find innovative ways to decouple economic growth from air pollution to create a healthier society and a more productive private sector.

It is time to make clean air a reality through a coordinated effort by the government, the private sector, and civil society to achieve the ambitions of the NCAP to ensure a healthier, greener and more prosperous India.

Prasad is Country Chairman, Shell Companies in India, and Chopra is CEO and Founder, Clean Air Fund

Published on September 13, 2021

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