State of Air Quality Metric in India

State of Air Quality Metric in India


Subhash Chandra Garg

The State of Global Air Report assesses air quality on three important parameters globally- people’s exposure to the PM2.5 (which represents ambient outside air pollution), to ozone exposure and indoor pollution. The State of Air Report released in October 2020 found that there was a marginal decline in the global level of PM2.5 exposure over the period 2010-2019. The presence of ozone has, however, increased globally over this period. Likewise, use of solid fuels in homes for cooking and heating which is the primary reason for the indoor pollution has also declined in aggregate globally. India has been assessed to fare very badly with respect to the two of three metrics- exposure of people to the PM2.5 pollution and increase of ozone in the air. India, however, has done quite well in reduction of use of solid fuels in homes although the proportion of households using solid fuels still continue to be quite high.

India had the highest population weighted annual average PM2.5 exposures in the world in 2019 at 83.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air. WHO’s safe limits for weighted annual average PM2.5 exposures is only 10 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3). India was in the least healthy category of exposures between 75-85 PM2.5 exposures. Over the period 2010-2019, India saw third highest increase in the exposure after Nigeria and Bangladesh. India’s exposure increased by 6.5 μg/m3 over this period whereas Nigeria had the highest increase of 7.5 μg/m3. There were a number of countries which saw decline in the exposure during this period. India’s general quality of air suggests a state of emergency.

In the exposure to ozone also India fared very badly. Ground level ozone is formed by chemical reaction of nitrogen oxide with volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight and it is very harmful for human and animal health and also adversely impacts food chain. On average, global exposure to ozone increased from 47 parts per billion (ppb) in 2010 to 49.5 ppb in 2019. India’s average exposure to ozone at 66.2 was the third highest in the world (after Qatar and Nepal) and increased by 9.7 ppb over this period. India had the dubious distinction of seeing the highest increase over this period. There are quite a few countries which decreased the level of ozone in their air, including China, which saw the highest decline of 6.8 ppb over this period.

India performed quite well in handling indoor pollution. South Asia, which has the second highest use of solid fuels- coal, charcoal, wood, agriculture waste, animal dung and kerosene- in the world recorded largest decline in the proportion of households using solid fuels over the period 2010-2019 from close to 74% in 2010 to about 60% in 2019. In India, about 54 million households have stopped using solid fuels for meeting their cooking and heating needs in homes. This was the second largest decline in the world after China which saw reduction in number of households using solid fuels by a whopping 220 million.

49% or a little less than half the people in the world- about 3.8 billion- are still exposed to indoor pollution. Exposure to indoor pollution on account of using solid fuels is the highest in the Sub-Saharan Africa where several countries have almost every household using solid fuels. Good work in India is also partly explained by the expansion of schemes like Ujawala which has led to provision of LPG connection to over 80 million families, most of which were earlier using solid fuels, including kerosene. There is remarkable decline in the use of kerosene in the country.

India, needs to attend urgently to the matter of the worst quality of air in the world, which is still deteriorating. In fact, situation in several pockets is much dire than what the national average conveys.

Mr. Garg is a 1983 batch IAS officer of Rajasthan cadre. He served as the Economic Affairs Secretary and Finance Secretary of India. He has also served position as an Executive Director in the World Bank, as appointed by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet.