For the first time in four years, India recorded a significant decline in sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, says an annual analysis by Greenpeace India and the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA). The report ranks the world’s biggest emitters of sulfur dioxide, a poisonous air pollutant that increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and premature death.
However, it continues to be the world’s top emitter for the fifth consecutive year. In 2019, India emitted 21 per cent of global anthropogenic (human-made) SO2 emissions. The report attributes this to the biggest emission hotspots in the country which are thermal power stations at Singrauli, Neyveli, Sipat, Mundra, Korba, Bonda, Tamnar, Talcher, Jharsuguda, Kutch, Surat, Chennai, Ramagundam, Chandrapur, Viskhapatnam and Koradi.
Avinash Chanchal, Climate Campaigner Greenpeace India, said there has been a reduction in SO2 emissions in the top three emitter countries. In India, Chanchal said they are getting a glimpse of how reduction in coal usage can impact air quality and health. He pointed out that in 2019, renewable energy capacity expanded, coal dependency decreased and there was a corresponding improvement in air quality. “But our air is still far from safe. We must speed up the energy transition away from coal and towards renewables, for our health and economy. While ensuring just transition of energy, with the help of decentralized renewable sources, we need to prioritize access to electricity for the poor.”
Sunil Dahiya, Analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), said SO2 emissions affect the health of millions of people directly and worse through converting to PM2.5. Dahiya said the most efficient and easiest way to reduce PM2.5 levels is to install FGD and reduce SO2 emissions from power plants as they form a significant fraction of total PM2.5 pollution at different locations across the country. “Delay in implementation of prescribed norms and not installing the FGD system is causing huge health and economic damage to our society,” he said. “Its time the offenders/non-complying power plants are pulled up for inaction and damage to the society to ensure better implementation moving ahead.”
The report highlighted that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), in 2015, had introduced SO2 emission limits for coal power stations. The power plants missed the December 2017 deadline for the installation of FGD units. Though the deadline was extended till 2022, as of June 2020, most of the power plants are operating without compliance to standards. The government, five years after setting the SO2 emission limits, has decided to shut down non-compliance thermal power stations. It has also allocated Rs 4,400 crore to tackle the air pollution crisis.