Providing a climate action roadmap for India - GulfToday

Providing a climate action roadmap for India

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Pollution in India

Prior research in India has estimated the toll on human health from outdoor fine particulate matter air pollution at about 980,000 premature deaths in 2019.

A Natural Resources Defence Council (NDRC) press release has highlighted new research, among the first to quantify the city-level benefits of climate action in India, shows that assertive adaptation measures and clean energy deployment in Ahmedabad could reduce air pollution, save energy, and avoid more than 1,400 premature deaths there in 2030 — policies that can be replicated in other Indian cities. The research project is a collaboration among experts from the Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar, the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute, and the NRDC.

Their work focuses on climate change, energy, air quality and public health applied research in Ahmedabad, one of 132 cities in India with air pollution exceeding current health-based air quality limits. Published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal ‘Environmental Research: Health’, this latest research study also suggests that cities across India can build on the applied analysis in Ahmedabad as a roadmap to achieve cleaner air, improve public health and protect people from rising temperatures in a warming world—even as population grows, the economy expands, and demand for air conditioning rises.

The multi-partner research also shows that Ahmedabad (population nearly 8.5 million)—which pioneered South Asia’s first heat action plan and has piloted a cool roofs program to help keep people safe from extreme heat—can deliver even more significant health benefits by meeting World Health Organization guidelines, helping to avoid as many as 17,300 premature deaths.

Prior research in India has estimated the toll on human health from outdoor fine particulate matter air pollution at about 980,000 premature deaths in 2019. That year, India launched its National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to develop a roadmap for reducing health-harming air pollution nationwide, especially in cities not meeting national ambient air quality standards for air pollution.

Findings from their research were presented at a recent virtual webinar where expert panellists discussed the study, and the health-related benefits of climate solutions that reduce fossil fuel use and simultaneously improve air quality and bolster human resilience to rising temperatures. They also called for stronger mitigation and adaptation measures in India and other countries facing impacts from climate change.

The key findings of the project emphasize that as India strongly shifts from fossil fuels to clean energy, and deploys robust heat adaptation pathways like cool roofs, it can reduce deadly air pollution, keep people cooler and healthier, and cut the carbon dioxide pollution that fuels climate change.

Specifically, the study finds that energy demand for cooling in Ahmedabad could nearly triple between 2018 and 2030 as the city population is projected to rise from 8.5 million to 9.3 million, and with annual average temperatures projected to rise about 0.8°C from 2018 to 2030. Renewable energy capacity to power Gujarat is poised to expand dramatically, consistent with India’s national commitment to provide 50% of its energy mix from renewable, non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

Expansion of Ahmedabad’s cool roofs programme from 5% to 20% of total residential roof area would increase the area covered by these more reflective roof surfaces and reduce cooling energy demand by 0.21 Terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2030 from 2018. That energy savings would more than offset the city’s climate change-driven 2030 increase in cooling demand, relative to 2018 (0.17 TWh). The cut in cooling energy demand is equivalent to avoiding 191,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution from a coal-fired power plant, emissions equivalent to burning 81.4 million litres of petrol. Air pollution modelling suggests that if the city takes no additional climate actions by 2030, local air quality will further deteriorate. But if Ahmedabad continues to expand its use of renewable energy and cool roofs, it can reduce air pollution from the current burden regardless of population growth. The air quality and health benefits of mitigation actions modelled by this study yield up to 1414 fewer annual all-cause premature deaths city-wide in 2030, compared to a Business-As-Usual 2030.

Health modelling for 2030 suggests that Ahmedabad could achieve even more significant health benefits with even greater ambition to improve air quality. Compared to continued fossil fuel reliance in 2030, the city could avoid up to 6510, 9047, or 17,369 premature deaths annually by 2030 if targets, limits, or air quality guidelines are achieved. The research study recommendations include substituting renewable energy for highly polluting fossil fuels benefits health; quantifying adaptation benefits by Indian cities; and decisionmakers in India considering air quality and the health effects of climate and energy policies.

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