Air pollution is an unprecedented environmental threat to public health and, as per estimates, causes approximately 7 million deaths annually. Air pollution further exacerbates the threat of climate change since all the pollutants coming from greenhouse gases intimately impact the climate. Better air quality will have a beneficial impact on our environment, economy, and health. Notwithstanding the efforts to fight air pollution by enacting new clean air legislation in different countries, health statistics suggest that ambient and indoor air pollution remain major global health risk factors.
Worldwide initiatives at the government level to fight air pollution and smog
Although worldwide efforts at the government level to improve air quality are expanding, implementation and capacity issues are impeding the path to clean air. Several important industries incarnating today’s world or lifestyle, such as manufacturing, transportation, solid waste management, residential air pollution, and agriculture, contribute to air pollution. The ensuing paragraphs will briefly discuss the models of the USA, EU, and UK to fight smog and air pollution; the later part of the article will focus on the efforts of Pakistan’s government to address the issue of air pollution, which emulates an existential threat to the country.
Enabling Policy Frameworks
Enabling policy frameworks, which include standards for air quality and air quality management capabilities, are essential for achieving sustainable development goals and improving the overall quality of life.
“When governments take action on air quality, they help prevent seven million premature deaths annually,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. They also enhance the economic and general health of the 92% of the world’s population who reside in areas with air quality that exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) standards. More policies are in place now than ever before, but it is crucial that we concentrate on their implementation, particularly in areas where people are disproportionately affected by poor air quality.
Clean Air Act (USA)
Congress passed the first Clean Air Act in 1963 to establish a research and regulation program inside the US Public Health Service. Congress further increased the mandate of federal law in the Clean Air Act Extension of 1970, which called for thorough federal and state restrictions for both industrial and mobile sources. The law created four new regulatory programs:
- National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)
- State Implementation Plans (SIPs)
- New Source Performance Standards
- National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants
Since then, the Clean Air Act has undergone two amendments, in 1977 and 1990, to strengthen its impact, including the addition of rules relating to acid deposition (to combat acid rain) and stratospheric ozone protection.
To reduce the emissions of pollutants, the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Clean Air Act regulations on greenhouse gases in 2011. There are now guidelines for mobile sources, and the EPA has also issued regulations for stationary sources such as fossil fuel-fired power plants. In March 2021, the Biden administration revived the New Source Performance Standards for power facilities that were built, updated, or rebuilt.
Gothenburg Protocol: EU and UK:
The Gothenburg Protocol and its revisions set emissions caps for a number of pollutants. Its goal is to reduce long-range transboundary pollution. The National Emission Ceiling Directives of 2001 and 2016 are among the directives used to implement them at the EU level. Directive 2008/50/EC, also known as the “Air Quality Directive”, outlines regulations for ambient air quality—the air immediately around us. Instead of establishing a cap on pollutants, it establishes “limit values” (limits that cannot be exceeded) for various contaminants’ concentrations.
The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are in charge of meeting the air quality limit values throughout the United Kingdom. The UK government and devolved administrations, less Northern Ireland, developed a national air quality policy in line with the mandate of the Environment Act 1995. In compliance with the updated National Emission Ceilings Directive (2016/2284) the UK Government published a National Air Pollution Control Program (NAPCP) in April 2019 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/air-quality-uk-national-air-pollution-control-programme) along with the Scottish Government, Welsh Government, and the Department for Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland.
Pakistan’s National Clean Air Plan:
The air pollution levels in Pakistan are dangerously high and have reduced the life expectancy of its citizens by nearly 4 years on average and by 7 years in some regions due to air pollution. The nation is also currently dealing with the disastrous repercussions of climate change, including severe flooding that completely drowned one-third of the nation and affected more than 33 million people.
In an effort to fight air pollution and the effects of climate change, the Ministry of Environment in Pakistan has drafted a National Clean Air Plan with the assistance of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), the Stockholm Environment Institute, and Clean Air Asia. This plan specifies activities to reduce air pollution, sets targets for concentrations of air pollution, and provides a framework for organizing management of air quality action. This strategy underlines the need to concentrate on five sectors at the national level:
- Household/Residential: Turning biomass and wood stoves into cleaner and more energy-efficient cooking and heating techniques
- Transport: eliminating the most polluting automobiles and enforcing Euro fuel regulations in the transportation industry
- Agriculture: prohibiting open burning in the agriculture industry
- Waste: prohibiting the open burning of trash
- Industry: the appropriate control of industry emissions
According to NCAP, the goal is “to improve national air quality through the implementation of various policies, technological actions, and management actions, including air quality monitoring.”
Importantly, it became evident that different sectors frequently contributed to the issue of air pollution in each of the provinces in different ways and on different scales — urban regions struggle with waste management, for instance, while more rural areas struggle with the burning of agricultural waste.
To cut world methane emissions by at least 30% until 2030, Pakistan has also endorsed the World Methane Pledge, which is likely to save more than 0.2% of global warming by 2050.
Pakistan amended its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) (https://unfccc.int/NDCREG) in 2021, stating that it intended to cut anticipated emissions up to 50% by 2030, with 35% of the reduction contingent on receiving international grant financing and 15% coming from domestic resources. Short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) and air pollution were two new areas of action for increased commitment. The updated NDCs list a number of high priority mitigation measures, such as the adoption of clean cookstoves, the regulation of methane emissions from rice production, the conversion of brick kilns to zig-zag technology, the transition to Euro-5 emission standards, and the promotion of better manure storage and management in the livestock industry. Pakistan also intends to switch to 60% renewable energy in order to achieve this goal, convert 30% of its vehicles to electric vehicles, and prohibit imported coal.
Pakistan’s initiatives to fight air pollution and smog.
Transport: Pakistan enacted the National Transport Policy in 2018, listing various initiatives to reduce the sector’s emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. These initiatives focus on the development of electric and other low carbon transport measures, along with the inclusion of infrastructure for bicycling and walking in urban areas.
Energy: Towards the goal of producing clean energy, Pakistan published the Alternative and Renewable Energy Policy in 2019, which mandates 20% of the nation’s energy sector’s generation capacity from alternative and renewable sources by 2025 and 30% by 2030. Pakistan also announced it would stop the development of new coal power plants in 2020 to reduce emissions from the energy sector.
Waste: The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority sanctioned a 400 MW waste-to-energy power plant at Lahore in 2018. The facility is part of Pakistan’s initiatives to effectively manage garbage while boosting indigenous and renewable energy sources.
In an effort to cut down on the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills, the Pakistani Environmental Protection Agency announced a gazette in 2019 outlawing the import, wholesale dealing, and manufacturing of polythene bags in the Federal Capital.
Reducing Emissions: The Punjab Environment Protection Department announced in 2018 that it would no longer approve the building of new brick kilns without zigzag technology. The regulation also directs the closure of brick kilns that use conventional firing methods during the smog season.
According to a 2021 announcement from the Ministry of Climate Change, all 7,896 conventional brick kilns in Pakistan’s Punjab province have been upgraded to zigzag technology. This will help dramatically reduce air pollution in the region.
Agriculture: The 2012 National Climate Change Policy specifies numerous steps to reduce methane emissions from agriculture. Measures such as water management in rice paddy fields and the development of low water-dependent rice cultivars would help the country’s agriculture industry reduce emissions while increasing output.
Finally, a few words on how society and governments can cooperate to fight air pollution and smog.
Despite the fact that air pollution is a worldwide issue, it disproportionately affects people in underdeveloped countries, especially the weakest members of society, including women, children, and the elderly. The governments must properly enforce the existing policies and regulations, ensure more substantial funding, have more broad monitoring, and reduce carbon footprint.