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Clearing the Haze: International Solutions for Delhi-NCR's Pollution Predicament

It is crucial to make a deliberate investment in the infrastructure of public transit.

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On 7 November 2023, air quality in Delhi was still classified as "severe," according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). The day before, the city's air pollution levels were seven or eight times above acceptable limits. Delhi's authorities have responded to this grave situation by taking several steps to defuse the situation. The odd-even car rationing system will reappear from 13 November to 20 November.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) values for several parts of Delhi were concerningly high on the morning of 7 November: 432 for Anand Vihar, 437 for RK Puram, 439 for Punjabi Bagh, and 410 for New Moti Bagh.

As for Gurugram, the AQI measurement of 399 in Sector 51 at 6 a.m. indicated a modest improvement in the air quality, although it was still classified as "poor." Gurugram schools have also been told to carry on with online coursework in response to these circumstances, ensuring pupils' education is not disrupted.

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A Brief Note on Stubble Burning

One major factor contributing to Delhi's air pollution is stubble burning in neighbouring states, including Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.

The Supreme Court urged these governments to stop burning stubble immediately and stressed how urgent it is to address this situation.

The court assigned station house officers the duty of putting out these fires, with the chief secretary in each state serving as the ultimate supervisor.

The court emphasised the seriousness of the situation and voiced worries about the detrimental effects of pollution on health, especially for young people. It demanded prompt and firm action to deal with this persistent issue that has long affected the area.

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International Models to Tackle Delhi-NCR's Pollution Crisis

Delhi-NCR's fight against air pollution has reached a turning point as locals deal with dire health consequences and a declining standard of living.

We must go beyond national boundaries and consider effective international models and case studies that might provide insightful information as we search for answers to this urgent problem.

Are there tried-and-tested methods Delhi-NCR may use to deal with its pollution problem, and what takeaways can be implemented locally?

The response is unquestionably "yes." There are effective global case studies and models that might act as a beacon for us in the fight against air pollution. Let's explore a few of these instances and consider the lessons they can teach our area.

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Beijing, China: A Beacon of Hope

Similar to Delhi, Beijing, China, also had problems with air pollution. However, using several strategies has significantly improved the quality of the air.

Beijing's success has been largely attributed to strict emission regulations for both automobiles and industries, as well as to the city's dedication to encouraging electric cars, extending public transportation, and improving green areas.

Delhi may learn from Beijing's all-encompassing strategy, which shows how urban planning and policy initiatives can result in beneficial transformation.

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London, UK: Pricing Pollution Out of the City

In addition to being well known for its historical sites and red double-decker buses, London has actively worked to reduce air pollution.

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and Congestion Charge implemented by the city have been crucial in reducing car emissions and enhancing air quality.

Similar policies, like charging for traffic, could be implemented in Delhi to deter the usage of cars that emit pollution inside approved areas. These pricing schemes can be useful for controlling traffic and cutting emissions in a crowded metropolitan setting.

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Bogotá, Colombia: The BRT Revolution

Colombia's capital city of Bogotá offers a fascinating illustration of how a well-executed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system may reduce traffic and improve public transit.

Bogotá has decreased emissions and increased mobility by constructing stations and bus lanes specifically for buses.

Delhi may learn from this example and look into ways to clear its roads so that commuters have more appealing and effective options for getting about.

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Copenhagen, Denmark: The City of Cyclists

Copenhagen, Denmark, is well known worldwide for being one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world.

The city has promoted a culture of sustainable and healthful transportation by emphasising bike infrastructure and pedestrian-friendly urban design.

Delhi might learn from Copenhagen's dedication to non-motorized transportation, given its growing population and traffic jams. Our city can lessen pollution while encouraging healthier and more environmentally friendly transportation options by giving cycling and pedestrian infrastructure priority.

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Los Angeles, USA: Clearing the Smog

The sky over Los Angeles, California, used to be known for being thick with smog.

However, by combining strict emissions regulations, the promotion of electric vehicles, and public awareness programs, it has made significant headway in combating air pollution.

Delhi can gain from Los Angeles's pollution-fighting expertise. We can alleviate air quality issues in our region significantly by using comparable measures, such as promoting electric vehicles and spreading awareness campaigns.

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Key Lessons for Delhi-NCR

The case studies and foreign models we have looked at point to several crucial lessons that Delhi-NCR might apply to its efforts to address the pollution challenge. The first and most important step in reducing pollution is to establish and strictly enforce strict emission limits for automobiles and industry. To stay up to date with the latest technological developments and changing environmental regulations, Delhi must not only establish these standards but also update them regularly.

Moreover, it is crucial to make a deliberate investment in the infrastructure of public transit. Convincing people to choose environmentally friendly alternatives and give up their automobiles can be achieved by constructing a dependable and effective public transportation system, which will lessen traffic jams and hazardous emissions.

Furthermore, implementing congestion pricing schemes in highly populated regions may be a successful tactic for reducing car traffic and air pollution. In addition to aiding in traffic regulation, these actions also bring in money, which can be used to fund other programs for reducing pollution and enhancing the environment.

Encouraging the usage of electric vehicles is another essential way to cut emissions significantly. By promoting the shift to more environmentally friendly modes of transportation, Delhi-NCR can significantly reduce its carbon footprint. To speed up this shift, providing incentives and making sure the required infrastructure is in place will be essential.

Finally, but just as importantly, promoting green urban areas—that is, building parks, gardens, and urban forests—can improve people's quality of life overall and serve as a natural barrier against pollution. To ensure a healthier and more ecologically sustainable future for the region, Delhi's pollution control initiatives should prioritise green space and incorporate sustainable urban planning techniques.

Even if there may be a long and difficult road ahead, we have the chance to take inspiration from the achievements of others and steer our region toward a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future. Acting swiftly, decisively, and with a united front is crucial to reducing air pollution and raising everyone's standard of living in Delhi-NCR.

(Anjal Prakash is a Clinical Associate Professor (Research) at Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business (ISB). He teaches sustainability at ISB and contributes to IPCC reports. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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