India grapples with killer smog ahead of crucial climate summit

By Pratap Chakravarty - RFI
NOV 11, 2023 LISTEN

India is planning to make artificial rains to tackle smog in New Delhi, the world's most polluted capital city, where schools have been closed and staff sent home from work as authorities move towards a scheme to keep half of its eight million vehicles off the streets for a week.

“We will seek permission for artificial rains since there is a possibility of clouds over Delhi on 20-21 November,” State Minister Gopal Rai said as the city's air quality index, or AQI, remained “severe” for a week.

Artificial rain involves using substances such as silver iodine to seed clouds.

On Thursday, the pollution index for the overcrowded city hovered at 398 compared to 54 in Paris, and researchers at the University of Chicago warned that filthy air was cutting short the lives of Delhi residents by 11.9 years.

An AQI of 0-50 is considered safe, while anything past 400 affects healthy people.

British medical journal The Lancet linked more than two million Indian deaths in 2019 to air pollution, while the World Bank estimated that damages linked to impure air the same year had cost the world €7.5 trillion.

Climate justice

Talks in Abu Dhabi earlier this month ended with participants agreeing to designate the World Bank as a temporary host over the next four years for a climate-linked Loss and Damages Fund for poorer countries.

Global leaders will set in motion the objectives of the fund, which was agreed at last year's UN climate talks to help needy countries ravaged by climate change.

India was among those pushing for the inclusion of developing nations at the UN's upcoming Cop28 climate summit, taking place in Dubai.

But India is likely to face headwinds at the event, which will largely focus on phasing out fossil fuels.

India is in a bind as it tries to more than double its economy at €6.8 trillion by 2030 and also honour a promise it made to cut its emissions to net zero by 2070.

Lonely stance

Power Minister R.K. Sharma said the government would not bow to pressures to reduce its usage of coal for energy generation to meet the demand of India's expanding economy.

“We are not going to compromise on availability of power for our growth, even if it requires that we add coal-based capacity,” Singh said as asked his state ministers to run coal-fired powerhouses to full capacity.

India emitted one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and became the fourth biggest fossil fuel polluter after China, the US and European Union. But given its enormous population, its emissions per capita are much lower.

India is also not likely to vote for a Cop28 "cooling pledge" to cut 68 percent of emissions by 2050. India and China must endorse the initiative to make it a success.

It was also unclear if the Dubai event will scrutinise a July memorandum by environment ministers from G20 countries.

The G20, which emits 80 percent of greenhouse gases, disagreed on a deal to cap emissions by 2025, move to clean energy and introduce a tax on carbon.