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Toward Zero Emissions: Working With Japan to Help Delhi's Alarming Air Pollution



Junichiro Koizumi global warming

~There needs to be an increase in public awareness to mobilize for tackling air pollution at every level~


Japan seems to be putting itself at the fore on the race to reduce carbon emissions and others in the Asia-Pacific are taking note.


In a press conference ahead of the National Diet session closure of December 5, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga provided insight on what was achieved, and what will be the agenda to come in the race to meet the goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Concretely, Suga pledged to create a government fund of ¥2 trillion JPY ($19 billion USDs) to support businesses investing in carbon emissions reducing technology -such as hydrogen and electric cars. 


Part of Japan’s focus on sustainable development and growth has also hinged on introducing economic spurs for energy production while protecting the environment. This was at the center of PM Suga’s first policy speech to the Diet after taking over as Japan’s Prime Minister. Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe, too, promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach carbon neutrality by the second half of this century.




Bilateral Benefits - Learning from Fukuoka


In a fraught effort to address the mounting challenge caused by rising air pollution levels across India, especially, in its national capital city of Delhi, the Indian Institute of Technology—Delhi, has advocated for the formation of Clean Air Partnership (CAP) between India and Japan. The bilateral initiative proposed in November 2020 would facilitate an exchange of best practices to combat pollution. 


Japan is known for having chosen to address air pollution issues holistically, starting with laws that are being implemented through a series of mechanisms, including continuous monitoring of industries and sectors. Ideas such as ‘green procurement’ーpromoting the purchase of equipment with lower environmental impactsーand shifting demand towards eco-friendly goods, are among the measures undertaken by Tokyo over the years.


Earlier, in January 2018, the Fukuoka prefectural government (on the northern shore of Japan’s Kyushu Island) signed an agreement with the government of the state of Delhi, agreeing to establish cooperation and exchanges in the fields of air pollution and environment. During the parties’ discussions it was underscored that the environment remained a prime source of concern for Delhi’s citizens, and that collaboration and aid from Fukuoka can prove immensely beneficial. Fukuoka has employed well established management practices, contributing to its notable success in overcoming the challenges of air pollution.


According to the Fukuoka Institute of Technology, there was a significant decline in the amount of particulate matter in the air in the highlands of Oita and Miyazaki prefectures between December 2019 and April 2020. It was reported that less than one-tenth of nitrogen oxides (NOx) was found, in comparison to peak measurements during the past decade. 


Fukuoka remains among the early adopters of municipal climate change action in Japan. It’s experience demonstrates how environmental action at the municipal level can make a difference for an expanding subtropical Asian city. The city also presents a coherent case for wind corridors and cooling by greening, according to Fukuoka’s city plans. 



Fukuoka’s local climate change adaptation policies, in particular the role of urban and green-space planning in facilitating adaptation actions, demonstrate vital measures that Delhi needs to study and implement.


In addition, five years ago in December 2015, amid concerns over increasingly hazardous pollution levels in India’ capital city, it was reported that Japan’s environment friendly coal-fired power generator technology could also prove instrumental in meeting this challenge.



Pollution: Factors of Tradition and Development


There are an estimated 30.2 million people registered as living in the capital city of India in 2020, together with surging population growth, giving the Delhi metropolis an extremely high population density. For the air quality to be in the “unhealthy” bracket as a year-round average renders life in the city far more hazardous. 


Delhi remains exposed to extremely high levels of pollution throughout the year. The levels of fine particulate matter, known respectively as PM2.5 and PM10, are prevalent in the air along with other forms of pollutants and toxic chemicals, having detrimental effects on human health.



Winters in Delhi (November through February) are notably the worst time vis-à-vis air quality and pollution, due to weather conditions and burning of crops in the forestland. This traditional farming practiceーknown as ‘slash and burn’ーinvolves farmers burning the leftover stubble of their crops in order to clear land after the September harvest. Although the practice has come under intense scrutiny, ironically it continues unabated in practice. 


The ill-effects of this practice on a large-scale have created devastating levels of air pollution in and around Delhi, making the capital city one that has among the worst air quality in the world. For that matter, ‘slash and burn’ farming methods are not just common across India, but also throughout South Asia and in many Southeast Asian countries.


Another major cause of air pollution is vehicular emissions. An increasingly mobile society uses vehicles that put out high volumes of smoke and haze, coating the city in soot and black carbon that is very harmful to all living creatures.


These factors place the city’s residential and commercial infrastructure under immense pressure. The result is an increase in nearly all industries and their rising polluting emissions, which directly correlate with India’s industrial and economic growth.




Breathing Hope for India and the Region


Despite all the above initiatives and background work, Delhi, and Delhiites continually gasp for breath, literally. Worsening air quality coupled with winter air pollution is resulting in the gradual, yet, constant deterioration of the health of residents, with a myriad of known ailments from breathing this overly polluted air. 


There needs to be an increase in public awareness of air quality information and a broad commitment from the population to mobilize for tackling air pollution at every level. Ultimately, the public’s willingness to adopt healthier options in daily life becomes a key factor in cleaning up the city’s air quality.


Against the above backdrop, India needs to emulate sustainable development choices and the constant monitoring systems adopted by Fukuoka and other cities in Japan. At the metropolitan level in India, changes should begin by reducing pollution-heightening construction and infrastructure activities, along with overall emissions across all offending sources. 


While the balancing of economic development pressures with climate actions remains challenging for Delhi and other cities in South and Southeast Asia, adaptation via urban planning holds the key to a clean liveable urban environment.


Author: Monika Chansoria


Dr. Monika Chansoria is a senior fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and the author of five books on Asian security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of The Japan Institute of International Affairs or any other organization with which the author is affiliated.


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