Environmental Governance and Policy

| SFC |

18 March 2024

Perspectives on Environmental Governance and Policy: Systemic transformations to limit the health burden of air pollution

Bhargav Krishna, Shibani Ghosh, Arunesh Karkun and Annanya Mahajan


Air pollution is the largest risk factor for ill health in India, ahead of high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, and poor diets, contributing to ~1.7 million deaths in 2019. Home to several of the most polluted cities in the world, India has witnessed a doubling of death rates from air pollution between 1990 and 2019. The associated economic burden of this high air pollution was pegged at 1.36% of GDP or ~INR 2 lakh crores in 20191. By any metric, air pollution is a national emergency, and while some important first steps have been taken over the last few years, there is a long way to go before India achieves acceptable air quality levels.

At the Sustainable Futures Collaborative (SFC), we view reducing air pollution not only as a technical challenge, but also as a structural one that requires re-thinking our approach and the institutions that are tasked with addressing it. Systematically addressing air pollution requires a long-term, strategic, goal oriented, health-protecting framework that also integrates short-term implementable technical solutions, all executed by a capable state. Reshaping India’s air pollution policy framework to that end, we believe, will require (1) making health the basis for crafting mitigation priorities, (2) strengthening regulatory institutions in the
ecosystem, (3) executing nested, coordinated, data-driven planning and action from local to airshed levels, and (4) focusing on root causes, not symptoms.

India is at a pivotal moment in its quest to reduce the harms of air pollution and this reshaping of the policy framework is an opportunity to build state capacity and ameliorate health harms while integrating air pollution concerns more deeply into the country’s development goals.

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