GS3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment


What is the issue?

  • The United Nations has warned that 9 out of 10 people on the planet are now breathing polluted air and nobody is safe from air pollution, in a report on the eve of the World Environment Day.


  • The five main sources of air pollution are –
  • indoor burning of fossil fuels, woods and other biomass to cook, heat and light homes
  • industry, including power generation such as coal-fired plants and diesel generators
  • transport, especially vehicles with diesel engines
  • agriculture, including livestock, which produces methane and ammonia, rice paddies, which produce methane, and the burning of agricultural waste
  • open waste burning and organic waste in landfills
  • Burning fossil fuels for power, transport and industry is a major contributor to air pollution.
  • Some of the same pollutants contribute to both climate change and local air pollution, including black carbon or soot and methane.
  • Mining operations in large scale

Major air pollutants

  • Particle pollutants
  • Ground-level ozone
  • Black carbon & Carbon monoxide
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Lead


Possible Health Hazards

  • Respiratory disorders
  • Cardiovascular dysfunctions
  • Neuropsychiatric complications
  • Fatigue, headaches and anxiety Irritation of the eyes,
  • nose and throat Damage to reproductive organs Harm to the liver,
  • spleen and blood

Air pollution and its impact

  • Air pollution has led to a growing global health crisis, which already causes about 7 million deaths per year according to WHO.
  • It is as well the main source of planet-warming carbon emissions.
  • In the 15 countries that emit the most planet-warming gases, the cost of air pollution for public health is estimated at more than 4% of GDP.
  • In comparison, keeping heat to the Paris Agreement temperature limits would require investing about 1% of global GDP.

Human impacts of air pollution

  • Air pollution kills 800 people every hour or 13 every minute.
  • This accounts for more than 3 times the amount of people who die from malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined each year.
  • Air pollution is responsible for 26% of deaths from ischemic heart disease, 24% of deaths from strokes, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.
  • Household air pollution causes about 3.8 million premature deaths each year.
  • The vast majority of them are in the developing world, and about 60% of these deaths are among women and children.
  • 93% of children worldwide live in areas where air pollution exceeds WHO guidelines.
  • 600,000 children below the age of 15 died from respiratory tract infections in 2016.
  • In children, it is associated with low birth weight, asthma, childhood cancers, obesity, poor lung development and autism, among others.
  • As many as 97% of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet the WHO minimum air quality levels.
  • In high-income countries, 29% of cities fall short of guidelines.
  • Among urban ambient air pollution factors from fine particulate matter, –
  • about 25% is contributed by traffic
  • 20% is contributed by domestic fuel burning
  • 15% is contributed by industrial activities including electricity generation
  • Keeping global warming well below 2°C could save about one million lives a year by 2050 through reducing air pollution alone.

India’s effort to contain air pollution

  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981: It provides for the prevention, control and abatement of air pollution and for the establishment of Boards at the Central and State levels with a view to carrying out the aforesaid purposes.
  • The Environment (Protection) Act,1986 (Air Act): It is an umbrella legislation designed to provide a framework for the co-ordination of central and state authorities established under the Water Act,1974 and Air Act,1981.
  • National Clean Air Programme: It aims to meet prescribed annual average ambient standards at all locations in the country in a stipulated timeframe.
  • Launch of National Air Quality index (AQI):
  • Dust Mitigation Plan: Centre has notified Dust Mitigation Plan under Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to arrest dust pollution.
  • Indian Government plans to have an all-electric fleet of vehicles by 2030. For promotion of electric vehicles FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (hybrid &) Electric vehicles scheme has been launched.
  • Measures to curb indoor air pollution: The government launched Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna to replace unclean cooking fuels used in the most underprivileged households with clean and more efficient LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas).
  • Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for Delhi-NCR: Under GRAP, there are 4 stages of pollution – Moderate to Poor, Very Poor, Severe and Severe+ or Emergency and action are listed that need to be undertaken as the levels are breached.

International efforts to tackle air pollution

  • To alleviate the negative effects of atmospheric pollution on health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) – made up of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and 54 nations, among other agencies – launched the BreatheLife initiative.
  • This is a program that aims to “aims to mobilize cities and individuals to protect our health and our planet from the effects of air pollution” and which has fixed the objective of cutting by half the number of deaths linked to air pollution before 2030.
  • Actions will be local and focused on improving transport, waste management, indoor air quality, energy supply, industry, food and agriculture.

Poverty and air pollution

  • A major hurdle in addressing air pollution is poverty. Poverty ridden households are still dependent on cook stoves, heating fuel, and kerosene lighting which are all common sources of pollution.
  • Further, though air pollution affects all, but the poorest and most marginalized people are worst affected and air pollution related deaths occur mostly in poorest households.
  • Governance: Poor governance is also a major challenge in curbing air pollution since lax enforcement of standards for car exhausts, crop burning, or dust from construction sites leads to more particulates in the air.
  • Technological challenges: major technological challenges include Old technology and High average age of vehicles, obsolete technology used in industries etc.

Way forward

  • Air pollutions have major impacts on human health, triggering, and inducing many diseases leading to high morbidities and mortalities, particularly in the developing countries such as Iran.
  • Therefore, air pollutions control is vital and should be on the top of priority list of the governments.
  • The policy makers and legislators in these countries must update all laws and regulations related to air pollutions.
  • Coordination between different departments involving in air pollutions must be leaded by a powerful environmental protection organization.
  • An effective environmental protection organization should have enough budgets for administration, research, development, monitoring, and full control of the environment including air pollution.
  • It is important to strengthen public transport and encourage people to use public transport.
  • Emphasis should be laid on reducing emissions from thermal power plants and industry by instituting strong emissions standards.
  • Both in-situ crop residue management and creation of infrastructure and market for the use and management of stubble outside of the field (ex-situ management) should be used.
  • Measures should be taken for building and improving proper waste management systems and efforts should be made to reduce, reuse and recycle waste.
  • Massive thrust should be provided to mass awareness campaigns involving community organisations such as resident’s associations, students, voluntary bodies and NGOs.
  • There is a dire need for political will for effective implementation of environmental regulations and ensure coordination among all stakeholders.
  • Research and development backed with adequate funding should be encouraged to develop and promote green technologies.

# Practice Question

  1. Analyse the human cost of air pollution? Suggest some measures to tackle its impact on human life. (200 words)
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