World Environment Day: Our agenda for clean air by Sunita Narain

The COVID-19 lockdown brought us clean air and a blue sky, but at a cost; What do we need to keep it going? Sunita Narain sets the agenda 

Published: Friday 05 June 2020

The World Environment Day in 2020 has come amid a when enormous disruption and tragedy due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and ensuing measures to curb it. Several countries across the world have taken to enforcing lockdowns. In India, millions have lost their livelihood and more than 200,000 have already been infected by the virus.

At the same time, people living in polluted metropolis like Delhi have marvelled at a drastic improvement in air quality; clear, blue skies and the venturing out of unusual fauna in the cityscape have been well-documented. The question is, how to retain the respite?

Surely not at the cost of the COVID-19 lockdown — with shut shops and shuttered industries, which in turn led to roads free of traffic. But what is clear is that the solution lies in action that matches the lockdown in scale and speed.

Keeping this in mind, Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment has launched an agenda for clean air post-lockdown:

  • Bring natural gas under Goods and Services Tax to reduce the tax burden and to incentivise clean fuel over dirty ones
  • Remove coal from Open General Licence so that imports can be regulated and use monitored
  • Ensure power plants across India meet 2015 emission standards — introduce the first-run policy so that only clean those who produce clean electricity get to sell

  Action has to be urgent and at a scale that will make a mark:

  • Do not delay Bharat Stage 6 emission norms for vehicles. Rather, use it as a win-win opportunity — send polluting older vehicles for scrapping and replace them with news ones — to provide an economic stimulus and achieve clean air
  • Introduce cleaner battery-powered vehicles for paratransit and public transport; mandate and pay for the change, starting with autorickshaws and taxicabs (where natural gas is not available) as well as buses and trams
  • Use global best experiences to make public transport safe
  • Use financial stimulus to augment public transport in cities — buses, metrorailways and light railways
  • Incentivise people to walk and cycle more often to commute to work

Acting now may keep the skies blue until World Environment Day 2021.


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