For a week now, the headlines in various dailies have only focussed on how bad the air quality is for people in the national capital. International agencies and respiratory and chest specialists have been crying hoarse about the long-term ill-effects of the pollutants and yet there is very little that seems to be happening to correct the situation.
We already know that long-term exposure to particulate pollution can result in significant health problems including asthma and cancer. However, what is scary is that recent studies have proven that it can cause a whole new range of health issues we never imagined—Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, damage to intelligence, and so on.
There are reports from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Given these alarming facts and figures, what are countries world-over doing to better the situation?
A country that is known for its monuments and history, ensures that it protects its heritage. In Paris, one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the world there is a ban on motorised vehicles in the central district, which is the location for many famous monuments. Not just this, the local administration also actively encourages people to use public transport, cycles, and other eco-friendly means of travel.
According to a report published in BBC, The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has made tackling pollution a centrepiece of her socialist administration. Her strategy involves phasing out older vehicles and getting rid of diesel while offering generous subsidies for other forms of transport.
All conventional cars built before 1997 have been banned from entering the city between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Drivers who breach this rule are fined heavily.
While these are some of the measures they adopt, the publication also reports about some of the incentives they offer. Individuals can now claim benefits worth up to €600 (£522), to help them buy a bike, obtain a public transport pass, or join a car sharing scheme—but only if they agree to scrap their cars or motorbikes. Small businesses can claim up to €9,000 towards the cost of an electric truck or bus.
In the event of an environmental catastrophe, the administration also makes travelling by public transport free of charge.
One of the basic requirements for us to survive is to have good, clean air. A look at the air quality index of Oslo, the capital of Norway, will show you that most parts of the country enjoy ‘good’ air quality, and a few states are marked as making ‘moderate’ air quality.
Having said that, as per reports, road traffic is the dominant source of local air pollution in Norway, and it includes both exhaust emissions and asphalt dust generated by studded tyres.
In Norway, the local municipalities are responsible for ensuring that the legal requirements relating to air quality are maintained, and various measures have been taken in this regard. Examples include restrictions on the use of studded tires, speed reductions, road maintenance and the replacement of old, polluting stoves.
The country also provides several incentives to its citizens. For example, Oslo has recently offered electric vehicle users free passes on toll roads and public ferries, access to taxi and bus lanes to avoid traffic, and further tax benefits.
Like many other things, India and China were on the same page when it came to the pollution levels in their countries. However, the administration in China worked hard to ensure that they moved away from having hazardous air quality.
In 2013, at the annual congress of the Communist Party, Premier Li Keqiang declared war on air pollution in China. The government rolled out a clean air action plan for the country. They started by identifying specific regions and pollutants for priority action. The detailed 10-point action plan for each region and the region-specific pollutant was meticulously followed, including steps like closing down polluting factories, taking high-emission vehicles off the road, preventing consumption of coal, putting emergency monitoring and warning systems in place, and promoting eco-friendly technologies.
According to a report published by National Geographic, What’s perhaps most striking about the Chinese war on pollution is the degree to which the government has dropped its habitual guardedness to embrace an unprecedented level of transparency. Pollution is one problem in China about which there is a robust public conversation.
In a real attempt to engage with its citizen and make them a part of the solution, anyone with a smartphone in China can now check local air quality in real time, see whether a particular facility is breaching emissions limits, and report violators to local enforcement agencies via social media. The level of information compares favourably to what is available in the U.S.
Incentivising its citizens to use eco-friendly transport options seems to be working well for this country. For example in Freiburg, a town in the southwestern part of Germany, cheaper housing and public transport is provided to those who use a bicycle instead of a car. Additionally, car owners are made to pay a hefty annual fee for a common parking space, which is located on the edge of the town.
In many parts of Germany, one can benefit from the trade-in schemes, whereby drivers of older diesel vehicles could trade them in for new models for generous discounts. Another popular scheme is the retrofit scheme, which would see car manufacturers install new hardware in older diesel engines aimed at reducing emissions levels.
Prioritising bikes over cars has ensured that Copenhagen now has more cycles than people. The administration lays a lot of emphasis on ensuring that people use public transportation as much as possible. Large parts of the Danish capital have been closed to vehicles for decades, and the city plans to become carbon neutral by 2025.
With many measures being implemented, the chief among those was a sales tax of 180% on any new car—meaning a car worth $20,000 on the forecourt will cost you $50,000 to drive away. Former car parks have also been turned into public spaces and pedestrianised zones.
In looking at these five countries, the one common factor that comes through is the need to revamp our public transport system. Ensuring that we do that, and use them effectively will undoubtedly help to considerably bring down the pollution levels.
If you know of other methods that countries across the globe are adopting, do write to us and tell us about them.