On Air and COP 26

Delhi Air composition 2015

As the pandemic keeps more people indoors, we come to appreciate the beauty of nature and how the climate is affecting us. It makes us  who were previously confined to offices and impervious to the climate outside the sad reality of our changed time. This month too Delhi had some of the worst air one can imagine such that the schools had to eventually shut. The AQI was between 300-999 and beyond from early November. A study done by IIT had delineated the composition of the air. It was found to be seasonally as a result of crop residue burning in Punjab and Haryana. The air then gradually moves towards the indo-gangetic plains, before winds carry it away further. The main component of the air in Particulate matter(PM) 10 and PM 2.5, however, was found to be road dust and that by construction, due to the fly ash component released during cement mixing. It is a marked difference from New York where transportation is a major source of emissions. Being an urban city, even emissions from domestic fuel consumption are low. This study however has not been repeated, so one wonders if the results are specific to a period in time. It does bring forth a component that construction of highways, subways, flyovers, which had been undertaken in Delhi during that period could have had extreme health hazards for the citizens. One only imagines that this dust component could not be contained, and thus dissipated into the air.

UPDATE: (17.12.21) A recent field report conducted by a leading media house of India, sent its reporters into the darkness of two nights to the streets of Delhi. They identified entry points to construction material compromised by corruption and illegal construction activities being conducted in many areas including those sanctioned by the central government ministries and NBCC, a violation of the supreme court ban on construction. Important to note that the Law and order enforcement of Delhi state is controlled by the home ministry and not the state government.

This year for the first time the COP 26 got coverage in the Indian media. This was a well advertised event and many activist organisations simultaneously undertook activities (mainly webinars). There were a little too many of them this month on the sidelines of the COP meetings. There were two major decisions during this council of parties meetings. One pertained to India revealing its pledge to be net zero by 2070 and the other was Indonesia reversing its pledge on deforestation. The elephant in the room was India and China criticised for coal consumption and projected as the largest consumers of fossil fuels, which of course is true. But what they miss is also that these countries have more people and more land compared to some tinier countries which have more emissions, the burden of which is passed on to us. They also conveniently forget the placement of India, and now China, as their cheap labour production manufacturing hubs. In a developed country if there is a power outage, you would remember that event for a decade, but here in India, even if you live in a metropolitan you are taught energy conservation from childhood. Right from the first day your parents told you to click off the light switch if you aren’t in the room, or a community living style, where many people huddled together for a single source of light or warmth. It further stretched in traditional values such as sharing clothes, passing clothes and objects to the less fortunate and more. So basically, the COP as Greta Thunberg wisely pointed out, is a global north greenwashing event. It seems more of an advertising and diplomacy party that doesn’t address or even impose sanctions on its own members. Surprising, it lasted even 25 years!

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