FEATURE SERVICE

Treading on a deadly pollution trajectory

by - April 15th, 2015

The transport sector emissions of PM 2.5 will increase about three times and emissions of NOx will increase by about five times by 2030. This is because of the expected growth of vehicles and stagnancy in adoption of better fuel quality and vehicular emission norms in India. This scenario could lead to increased mortalities, reduced agricultural yields and disruption in rainfall patterns. A stunning new book now charts out the transition for the transportation sector to curb growing air pollution levels and reverse an impending crisis.

How to reverse this?

The transport sector emissions of PM 2.5 will increase about three times and emissions of NOx will increase by about five times by 2030. This is because of the expected growth of vehicles and stagnancy in adoption of better fuel quality and vehicular emission norms in India. This scenario could lead to increased mortalities, reduced agricultural yields and disruption in rainfall patterns. A stunning new book now charts out the transition for the transportation sector to curb growing air pollution levels and reverse an impending crisis.


Facts about air pollution are usually understated; and in many cases information is hard to come by. But now a report ‘India-California Air Pollution Mitigation Program (ICAMP)’ by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) not only analyzes the pollution scenario, but spells out the steps needed to overcome the impending crisis. It is important to first establish the facts:


Vehicles have grown from 20 million in 1991 to 159 million in 2012. Ambient particulate matter (PM) from all sources, including the transport sectors, could lead to about 3.2 million premature deaths every year. Asia is a high-risk region with 2.1 million premature deaths and disability-adjusted life-years of 52 million years lost. In India, ambient air pollution caused an estimated 627,000 premature deaths in 2010.


The ground level ozone produced by pollutant gases such as NOx released during the combustion of fuels leads to crop damages. In India, this could be as high as 36 per cent reduction in wheat yields every year. Aerosols (sulphates, nitrates, organics and dust) reduce sunlight reaching the ground which reduces evaporation and hence precipitation. Some of the aerosols also nucleate copious amounts of cloud drops, which reduce the precipitation efficiency of low-level clouds. Some aerosols cause surface cooling and alter land-ocean differential heating, which leads to reduced rainfall. Some of the aerosols cause surface cooling and alter land-ocean differential heating, which also leads to reduced rainfall. Ozone and black carbon are two important short-lived climate pollutants (LSCPs) that cause surface warming as well as warming of elevated regions of the Himalayas. These two pollutants have been shown to have expanded the tropical circulation, which determines the regional locations of precipitation in the low latitudes and deserts in sub tropics.

The impending crisis

Worse, 80 per cent of Indian cities already violate the standards for air quality. About 28,000 two wheelers and 4,200 cars are added to India’s vehicular fleet daily. Under current trends in growth of vehicles with current fuel and emission standards, the transport sector emissions of PM 2.5 will increase about three times and emissions of NOx will increase by about five times by 2030. This is because of the expected growth of vehicles and stagnancy in adoption of better fuel quality and vehicular emission norms in India.

Estimates reveal that the total number of vehicles could well exceed 400 million by 2030. This will increase PM 2.5 emissions from vehicles from about 100 kt/yr in 2010 to 280 kt/yr in 2030, in a business as usual scenario assuming BS III and BS-IV standards are implanted in some cities. Alternate (ALT-I and ALT-II) scenarios, which envisage introduction of BS-IV norms all across the country by 2015 versus 2020 show reductions of 43 per cent and 30 per cent in PM 2.5 emissions respectively. The scenario may improve a bit with the announced introduction of BS-IV standards all across the country by 2016. However, the best results can only come with a move to BS-V quality of fuel and BS-VI vehicular emissions standards for vehicles.

Steps to move towards clean air, quickly!

The cost of transition

According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), the direct costs of refinery investment to meet ultra low sulphur standards are estimated at $ 4.2 billion. AFV2025 have put the costs at up to three times this amount. However, a comparison with California cost figures for refinery upgrades, where the capacity is in the range of 50 per cent of the Indian refining industry suggest lower figures than the Indian industry estimate. Summing investments and increased operational costs, and normalizing them to a per litre basis, Indian refineries would pay an extra 0.70-0.88¢ per litre of fuel produced. Thus, ultra low sulphur fuels would additionally cost only about 50 paisa per litre. Even after tax impacts, the net increase in fuel price due to ULSFs will be less than two per cent of the present fuel price.

Climate change and the transportation sector

The Monsoon and the Himalayan glaciers provide for the water needs of all of South Asia. Air pollution aerosols have a negative impact on both the Monsoon and the glaciers. The transport sector has a role in these effects since it contributes to black carbon, organic carbon, and nitrate aerosols. For instance, the transport sector emits 6.6 giga tons of CO2 out of the 35 giga tons from fossil fuels. Hence it is a major source of global warming. The transportation sector also has the highest rate of growth in CO2 emissions. The other major greenhouse gases emitted by this sector is methane, CFCs and HFCs. Diesel vehicles are one of the major sources of black carbon aerosols and they also emit organic carbon aerosols. Additionally, the transportation sector leads to the increase of ozone and NOx emissions contribute to nitrate aerosols in PM.


Studies reveal that in the South Asian regions and the surrounding Indian Ocean, aerosols contribute to significant dimming at the surface. The magnitude of the solar dimming is as much as 10 per cent over the oceans and 20 per cent to 30 per cent over the subcontinent. Absorbing aerosols such as black carbon and dust (road and desert dust) absorb 10 per cent to 25 per cent of solar radiation within the atmosphere. Several studies suggest that this vertical redistribution of solar radiation along with alteration of the solar heating gradient between the land and oceans and between the north and the south Indian Ocean to weaken the Monsoon circulation and reduce the summer time precipitation by five per cent to 10 per cent. It is significant that observations show that the Indian monsoon precipitation has decreased by about seven per cent from 1950 to 2005.


In addition, direct deposition of black carbon over the bright snow and ice surfaces in the Himalayas, increases the absorption of solar radiation over the glaciers and snow packs, which also contributes significantly to the warming. The two processes, black carbon direct warming of the atmosphere and the deposition over snow and ice, amplify the CO2 induced warming over the Himalayas by as much as 100 per cent to 150 per cent. Also, the rule of thumb is that, absent adaptation, each 1°C increase in temperature would correspond to about a 10 per cent reduction in yields.

Long-term benefits

Strategies to reduce emissions and improve air quality may also result into considerable co-benefits. These may include creation of jobs, improvement in agricultural productivity, energy savings and boost to the economy. Reduction in PM emissions results in reduced moralities and morbidities. Mitigating NOx not only helps in reducing health impacts, but also reduces the Ozone-forming potential. Reduced Ozone concentrations can lead to enhanced agricultural yields of many crops like wheat, rice and soybean.


A modal shift towards public transportation systems not just reduce emissions, but also help reducing congestion in cities. Significant energy savings can be claimed out of a successful public transport system. Additionally, considerable fuel savings can be made on account of reduced congestion due to lesser vehicular density.


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