India Launches Clean Air Index to Help Tackle Pollution

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Smog shrouds the Delhi skyline. jepoirrier [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

India looks like it is about to get serious about tackling air pollution.

As reported by the Hindustan Times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just launched a national air quality index, aiming to both raise awareness about pollution problems and incentivize a change to the country's economy. While the Prime Minister rejected outside criticisms of pollution in India, he did make it clear that the current model of fossil fuel-driven development will have to shift.

This is, said Modi, something that should fit well with Indian culture's traditional values:

"We have been brought up in a nation where environment protection is connected with human sentiments and nature is considered next to god," said Modi. He said Indians must be sensitive towards the nature and environment so that the world has a lesser chance of raising questions about India's contribution in tackling global warming. "Until we actually bring a change in our lifestyles, all the other efforts will go in vain."

Many Indian cities do indeed struggle with chronic air pollution problems, and their associated health, economic and environmental impacts. As the Hindustan Times piece notes, a recent World Health Organization report suggested that 13 of the world's 20 most polluted cities were in India.
Despite these challenges, here have been many signs of late that India is getting serious about a shift to cleaner development models. From ambitious tree planting programs to astoundingly fast growth in solar and clean energy, action is underway to tackle air quality issues, reduce carbon emissions and plot less fossil-fuel intensive paths toward economic growth. As the world prepares for the all important Paris climate talks later this year, observers will be watching carefully to see if these are simply isolated initiatives, or whether they herald a more fundamental transition toward sustainability.

In many ways, there are strong analogies with the challenges faced by China. While most experts expected fossil fuel use (and especially coal consumption) to continue climbing for decades to come, the Chinese have already had to face the fact that coal-related pollution was directly impacting the economy's ability to grow. The result has been an aggressive effor to cut pollution, an effort which resulted in cuts to coal consumption and production decades ahead of expectations.

Nahendra Modi's clean air efforts are a promising sign that India may be on a similar trajectory.