Air Pollution

Environmental regulations: go or no go?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NDMA, NDMA-2005 and its provisions.

Mains level : Paper 3- Lowering of environment standard is not a good strategy to revive the economy in the wake of corona pandemic.

As the world struggles to restart the economic activities amid the pandemic, various strategies are being advised to salvage the damaged economies. One amongst them is to cut down on the environmental standards to spur the economic activities. This article explains why India should not be short-sighted to lower the environmental standards.

What is this fuss about environment and lockdown?

  • The lockdown exit strategies are focused on saving livelihoods.

  • But the lockdown is causing fiscal pressures on governments which further motivates it to lower the environmental standards, suspend environmental monitoring requirements and reduce environmental enforcement. (Well to save some bucks.)

  • And also in the belief that this is necessary to secure economic growth.

  • But it would be a mistake to assume that there is a trade-off between saving livelihoods and protecting the environment.

  • The crisis of COVID-19 has highlighted that improving the quality of air in our country is not a matter of choice but an emergency.

How countries around the world are reacting?

  • The US announced a significant reduction in fuel efficiency standards for new cars.

  • This move could result in increased gasoline consumption by 80 billion tonnes, pumping increased carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will not be enforcing compliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations of environmental protection, for an indefinite period.

  • 13 European ministers have been outspoken about resisting the temptations of short-term solutions in response to the present crisis- need to maintain and strengthen EU’s effective regulatory tools to stick to its 2030 climate goals.

5 Arguments that Indian authorities that look into viz a viz environmental standards

1. Pollution increases risk to COVID-19

  • People living in areas with higher levels of air pollution face increased risk of premature death from COVID-19.

  • New Delhi was the world’s most polluted capital city for the second straight year in 2019.

  • And India was also home to 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities, Swiss-based group IQ AirVisual said in a recent study.

  • The State of Global Air 2019 Report finds air pollution responsible for over 1.2 million deaths in China and India each, based on 2017 data.

2. The poor are the most affected by air pollution

  • There is enormous inequality in the impact of the COVID-19 fallout.

  • Those who suffer the most from air pollution are the millions who live and toil in the open, who cannot afford air-purifiers or other mitigating measures, as also the elderly and children.

3. Risk of future pandemics

  • There is good evidence that three-quarters of the emerging infectious diseases migrate from wild or domesticated animals into humans.

  • This includes Ebola, SARS, MERS and now COVID-19.

  • Deforestation, industrial agriculture, illegal wildlife trade, climate change and other types of environmental degradation increase the risk of future pandemics.

4. Public support for environment protection

  • From Delhi to Sao Paulo, Bangkok to Bogota, the dramatic improvement in the quality of air and water in the most polluted cities around the world has been transmitted by social media.

  • This may well result in a groundswell of public support for measures to protect the environment.

5. The environment will get the value it deserves

  • The corona pandemic will jolt the markets into giving a clean, healthy and sustainable environment the economic value it deserves.

  • There’s a possibility that the gulf between what markets value, and what people value, will close.

Environment conservation as a silver lining in this Pandemic

  • We have never treated air pollution as a national emergency, failing to coordinate between the Centre and state governments.

  • The COVID pandemic has been declared a national disaster in India, under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005.

  • This legislation mandates the disaster authorities coordinate among themselves and take measures for the prevention and mitigation of the pandemic.

  • Preventing and mitigating the risks of COVID-19, therefore, means the mandate for the disaster authorities is also to tackle air and other forms of pollution head-on.

Questions based on disasters have been a recurring theme in the UPSC. In 2014, a question was asked with respect to drought, the same could be asked about air pollution. In 2017 again a question based on role of NDMA and tsunami was aksed. In 2018, a question based on Sendai Framework was asked.

 

Conclusion

The NDMA is a platform which should be used to combat air pollution as an emergency, similar coordination will be required at an international level to continue to work towards reduced emissions under the Paris Agreement. It is a great pity that it takes a pandemic to bring the realisation that economic growth versus clean air is a false dichotomy.


Back2Basics: NDMA

  • On 23 December 2005, the Government of India enacted the Disaster Management Act, which envisaged the creation of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
  • It is headed by the Prime Minister, and State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) headed by respective Chief Ministers.
  • It aims to spearhead and implement a holistic and integrated approach to Disaster Management in India.
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