In the second episode of ‘Climate Course Correction’, Siddharth Singh, an energy and climate policy expert, talks to Smitha Verma about how energy efficiency can help nations fight climate change. He is the Lead India Analyst and Coordinator at International Energy Agency (IEA) and also the co-lead author of India Energy Outlook report 2021. He is also the author of ‘Great Smog of India’ and talks about how air pollution remains a much-ignored invisible health crisis.. Edited excerpts from the interview…
How have the conversations around air pollution changed after your book ‘Great Smog of India’ was released in 2018?
When I started researching for the book in 2016, the only reportage that we would hear about or read about on air pollution would be once in a while. Perhaps a December or November headline saying that there is stubble burning and Delhi’s AQI has become really poor. And then we will read headlines at some other points of the year saying that, over a million Indians are dying every year due to air pollution.
Since then to today, four years later, what we have seen is that the awareness and information that exists on air pollution has definitely increased a lot. But as far as actual action on the ground goes, like building walkable cities or action against polluting industries has unfortunately not happened.
Is there lack of awareness around this silent killer?
Absolutely! I think, this is one of the starting points that I have in the book. You don’t have a ticket that says, air pollution led to the early death of this person, and therefore, we are unable to realise the direct linkages. A very significant percentage of all diabetes cases in India, are actually not because people eat sugar or so. It’s actually because of air pollution. Scientific information is available on it in the public domain. Another study that I saw much after the publication of my book was how particulate matter ends up in the foetuses. So yes, it affects us silently.
How can we ensure that there is more awareness around it?
A few decades back, a lung cancer specialist would say that eight or nine of the lung cancer patients that show up are smokers. Today, if you talk to them, they say only two or three of them are smokers out of every 10. So where are they getting these diseases from? It is from the air that we breathe. So I feel there can be certain protocols to determine if a particular death is attributable to air pollution. Even if we don’t conclusively say so, I think there should be a mention that air pollution was probably a compounding factor for a certain patient, and I feel that kind of information will definitely help. It will get us to act more. Not just on a personal domain, but even on societal levels. We cannot expect to solve air pollution by individuals acting alone. It is a societal problem and needs to be solved at the societal level, at the government level, at inter-governmental level and that is where majority of the changes will happen. So even if you did the best you can, we will still need a more coordinated response from everyone.
What are your expectations from COP27?
At the next COP, I would expect that more and more countries are able to actually help out emerging markets and developing countries who have been demanding for a fund for resilience. A lot of the focus on climate action has happened on the mitigation side, which is how do we reduce emissions from going into the atmosphere in the first place? Not enough conversation is happening around the impacts that people are already seeing in the form of heatwaves and floods and droughts.