India

How technology can help India breathe more easily

Boys play cricket in a public park amidst heavy fog on a cold winter morning in Kolkata, India, December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri - GF10000278471

India faces one of the highest disease burdens from air pollution in the world Image: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Nitin Bansal
Managing Director India and Head of Network Solutions, Market Area South East Asia, Oceania and India, Ericsson
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India

This article is part of: India Economic Summit

Pollution, a major contributor to climate change, is a growing concern in India, as it is around the world. The country faces one of the highest disease burdens from air pollution in the world, with an estimated 100% of the population living in areas with PM2.5 concentrations - pollution particles that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres - above the World Health Organization’s guidelines.

India is home to more than 17% of the world’s population, making it the world’s second most populous country. That population is increasingly migrating from the countryside to cities – it’s estimated that approximately 25-30 people migrate every minute to cities from the rural areas in India. Delhi, the national capital, grew from a meagre 1 million people in 1950 to a staggering 28 million people by 2018 – that’s more than half of the combined population of all national capitals in the ASEAN region. With further development and population growth, increases in ambient air pollution are anticipated.

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In January 2019, the government launched the National Clean Air Program (NCAP), a five-year action plan to curb air pollution by building a pan-India air quality monitoring network and improving citizen awareness. Delhi has certainly made consistent strides in the past few years to control air pollution levels, but while these past months have been encouraging in terms of the level of pollution, it’s not time to remove the anti-pollution masks. Even now in Delhi the average PM2.5 and PM10 levels of pollution are two- to three-times higher than satisfactory levels.

ICT for pollution control

Technology has the potential to be a vital enabler to curb pollution across the globe. According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, ICT solutions such as the Internet of Things (IoT) could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 15% by 2030. Areas where ICT can make an impact include transportation, electricity grids, manufacturing, agriculture and land use. In addition, as ICT is a carbon-lean sector that accounts for less than 2% of global CO2 emissions, it presents a viable means for cities and countries to reduce their carbon footprints.

At Ericsson, we believe that public-private partnerships can play a crucial role in addressing climate change and are willing to do our part. We are, for instance, working on a collaborative project with academics, industry and the public sector to provide electrified transportation in Sweden, which not only provides smart transport solutions but is also emission-free. Air quality measurements can also help identify and prioritize the sources and locations of greatest concern - benchmarking against standards and guidelines - as well as evaluating the effectiveness of actions to reduce emissions.

In Gujarat, a “cap and trading” programme has been launched to curb particulate air pollution. It’s a collaboration between industry, local municipal authorities, the University of Chicago and Harvard University. In this programme, the government sets a cap on emissions and allows factories to buy and sell permits to stay below the cap. Under the emissions trading system, industries must hold a permit for each unit of particulate that they emit and must comply with the prescribed standard of 150 milligrams per cubic metre of particulate matter released into the atmosphere.

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It is important to understand that controlling air pollution levels requires constant monitoring. Again, technology such as IoT can play a major role here. Ericsson, in partnership with IIT Kanpur, has deployed NarrowBand-IoT sensor networks at strategic locations in Delhi to monitor air pollution levels. The real-time data collected by the sensors is collated for analysis with the aim of increasing awareness, supporting policy intervention and allowing corrective actions to reduce air pollution in the city to be taken.

For a better tomorrow

ICT is transforming lives and is an essential enabler of sustainable solutions. As connectivity and innovative technologies become widespread, the potential for ICT to solve problems will only grow. However, pollution control is a continuous process, requiring vision, ongoing measurement and the continual rebalancing of complex factors such as migration, industrial policies and the willingness of communities to address CO2 emissions.

Only by recognizing the fundamental social transformations required - and by involving our communities in defining the way forward - will we be able to steer these unique technological resources towards a better future. Armed with technology, we can surely help the world breathe better. The onus is on all of us.

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Related topics:
IndiaFuture of the EnvironmentClimate Change
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