Trump calls India air ‘filthy’, is not entirely off the mark


Written by Esha Roy

October 24, 2020 4:54:52 am

President Donald Trump speaks during the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., with Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden. (AP)

In his debate against the Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday, US President Donald Trump, while talking about his administration’s track record on checking carbon emissions, referred to pollution levels in other countries, including India, and called their air “filthy”.

Responding to a question on how the candidates proposed to combat climate change while supporting job growth, Trump claimed the carbon emission numbers in the United States under his administration have been the best in the last 35 years. “Look at China, how filthy it is. Look at Russia, look at India… the air’s filthy. I took us out of the Paris Accord because we were going to have to spend trillions of dollars, and we were being treated very unfairly,’’ said Trump.

Trump’s comment on India’s air quality might have been unpalatable, but it is true that over the last few years, Indian cities have been recording some of the highest pollution levels in the world.

A State of the Global Air 2020 report by the Boston-based Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, released earlier this week, found that India has the highest exposure to PM 2.5 in the world (in 2019), followed closely by Nepal, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan, with India having seen an increase in PM 2.5 levels and exposure to it since 2010.

India also has one of the highest exposures to ozone in the world, behind Qatar and Nepal. India has experienced a 17 per cent increase in ozone exposure in the past decade.

While the US’s carbon dioxide emissions have dropped during Trump’s tenure, they are not, as he claimed, the lowest in the last 35 years. According to data from the US Environment Protection Agency, carbon dioxide emissions dropped to 5,253 million tonnes in 2017, which was the lowest since 1993, or 24 years. But the emissions rose to 5,424 million tonnes the next year, the last year for which data is available.

The United States still continues to be second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. Its total greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide and others) was more than 6.6 billion tonnes in 2018.

India is the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, but its total emissions are less than half that of the US. According to the Global Carbon Budget report for 2019, India’s estimated total emissions for the year 2018 was only 2.65 billion tonnes. India’s per capita emissions, according to this report, was one-eighth that of the US.

The withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement was something that Trump had promised during his election campaign. A year and a half after becoming President, in June 2017, Trump made good on his promise, making the US the first country to pull out of the agreement that seeks to keep global average temperatures from rising beyond 2 degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.

The US was not a part of the Kyoto Protocol either, having decided not to ratify the agreement that was the predecessor to the Paris pact.

Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar has, time and time again, along with leaders of other countries, pointed to the role that richer, developed countries needed to play in shouldering the financial burden of climate change.

At the meeting of BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) nations in Sao Paulo as well as the COP 25 meet in Madrid last year, Javadekar had pointed out that the developed world had over the past decade promised USD 1 trillion to developing countries to combat climate change, of which only close to two per cent had been paid.

The Indian government has also maintained that the technology transfer promised as part of climate change mitigation measures had not materialised.

However, the good news from the recent State of the Global Air report is that both India and China have reduced household exposure to air pollution, which is now being considered a leading contributor to maternal and infant mortality rates. India has reduced this exposure from 73 per cent to 61 per cent over the past decade.

Last year, India launched a National Clean Air Programme that seeks to reduce pollutant levels by 20 to 30 per cent by year 2024 in over 100 cities.

In April 2020, the country initiated a switch to Bharat Stage VI (BS-VI) vehicle emission standards, which is expected to bring benefits over the next few years.

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