Indians losing 5.3 years of life to air pollution, China bent curve: Report
According to PM2.5 data from 2021, pollution in India has increased from 56.2µg/m3 in 2020 to 58.7µg/m3 in 2021—more than 10 times the WHO guideline of 5µg/m3.
China has bent the curve on air pollution while India continues to lag leading to an average Indian citizen losing around 5.3 years of life expectancy.
In comparison, an average Chinese citizen has seen an improvement — from 4.7 years of life expectancy being lost in 2013 to 2.5 now, an improvement of 2.2 years, made possible by effective policies to curb air pollution, a new analysis of data till 2021 has revealed.
Without China’s steep decline in pollution, the global average pollution would have slightly increased from 2013 (base year selected by researchers) to 2021, the annual Air Quality Life Index report of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) said in a report on Tuesday.
Of all the countries in the world, India faces the greatest health burden from air pollution due to the large number of people its high particulate pollution concentrations affect. Since 2013, 59.1% of the world’s increase in pollution has come from India, the report which is mainly based on satellite-derived PM2.5 data said.
According to PM2.5 data from 2021, pollution in India has increased from 56.2 micrograms per cubic metres(µg/m3) in 2020 to 58.7µg/m3 in 2021—more than 10 times the WHO guideline of 5µg/m3.
The most polluted region in India are the northern plains or the Indo-Gangetic Plains that support 38.9% of India’s population.
The decline in pollution levels in China began gradually from 2013 onwards. Pollution levels dropped 42.3% between 2013 and 2021 and by 5.3% from 2020 to 2021 alone in China.
While Delhi, the most polluted megacity in the world recorded an annual average particulate pollution of 126.5 micrograms per cubic metres in 2021, more than 25 times the WHO guideline, Beijing recorded an annual average of 37.2 micrograms per cubic metres. The larger Beijing province experienced the largest decline in pollution, down 56.2% in just eight years.
“Without China’s steep decline in pollution, global average pollution would have slightly increased from 2013 to 2021. Because of these air quality improvements, the average Chinese citizen can expect to live 2.2 years longer,” the report said.
China has had such success in reducing pollution because of strict public policies, the report said. To meet the goals laid out in its National Air Quality Action Plan, the Chinese government began to restrict the number of cars on the road in large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. In the industrial sector, iron- and steel-making capacity was also reduced. New coal plants were banned in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta regions and existing plants were mandated to reduce their emissions or switch to natural gas and renewable energy sources.
India also declared a “war on pollution” in 2019 and launched its National Clean Air Programme with a goal of reducing particulate pollution levels by 20 to 30% compared to 2017 by 2024. In 2022, India revamped its NCAP goal, aiming to achieve a 40% reduction in particulate pollution levels by 2026 in 131 non-attainment cities (cities that did not meet air quality standards for five years). Achieving and sustaining such a reduction for the 131 non-attainment cities would increase India’s national average life expectancy by 7.9 months, and by 4.4 years for Delhi’s residents.
The Union environment ministry did not respond to HT’s queries for a comment on the EPIC report.
“This data shows that fine particulate air pollution remains the greatest external threat to public health. Yet, throughout history countries like the United States, Europe, Japan, and, most recently, China have been able to significantly reduce air pollution thanks to a persistent, public call for change followed by strong policies. At the foundation of those actions were common elements: political will and resources, both human and financial, that reinforced each other,” write Michael Greenstone, Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and director of EPIC and Christa Hasenkopf Director, Air Quality Programs at EPIC in the report.
AQLI’s latest 2021 data reveals that permanently reducing global PM2.5 air pollution to meet the WHO guideline would add 2.3 years onto average human life expectancy globally.