South Asia with a combined population of roughly 1.6 billion people, is a low-income region and home to half of the world’s poor. With increasing urbanisation and economic growth and having a quarter of the world’s population, air pollution is an increasing concern in South Asian countries.
Environmental degradation remains a challenge in almost all the countries of South Asia. With the increase in industrial activity, exponential growth in the number of vehicles and population, the contribution of each country to the South Asia regional air pollution will increase over time.
Emissions levels of Sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides and suspended particulate matter have been rising steadily over the past few decades. The suspended particulate matter (SPM) is of great concern in South Asia. In most of the countries, the levels of SPM exceed the national standards and cause severe health impacts and environmental damage.
WHO guideline levels of suspended particulate matter (SPM) exceed in the air of most of mega cities of South Asia owing to economic growth and increasing the energy demand, greenhouse gas emissions have risen in South Asia by about 3.3pc annually since 1990. Coal is the main source of energy in the region, followed by natural gas.
South Asian countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — have carried out a number of projects/activities for the creation of a meaningful framework to limit air pollution.
A greater participation of member states is required and a regional framework is needed for better understanding and cooperation among the member states, on issues related to air pollution. An effective implementation of a regional framework with shared responsibilities towards air pollution reduction measures across the member countries is vital for sustained economical growth, protection of environment and to safeguard public health, especially of future generations, in the region.
A number of international Conventions and Treaties have also been signed by most of the South Asian states and every member state has constituted its own designated organisational authority for the implementation of international conventions and treaties.
The major hurdles in the implementation of these treaties and conventions are common to all states, which include lack of financial and technical support, lack of coordination, inefficient legal and regulatory framework, no access to relevant databases and lack of awareness among the local populations.
SAARC could be a possible forum, to provide support for establishing forums and to look into ways and means in generating possible support for air pollution reduction in the region.
While SAARC has been in function for about 25 years now, the impact of this framework, especially with regard to air pollution is yet to be seen. SAARC needs to be strengthened with a monitoring and evaluation mechanism to observe whether the member countries are making progress on reducing air pollution and its associated impacts in the South Asia region.
There needs to be a mechanism of binding commitments so that member countries keep the promise of reducing air pollution seriously and if it could be mandatory for them to make some progress in this regard.
Through technical assistance protocols, countries would be able to learn from each other, thereby making the goal of minimising air pollution and its trans-boundary effects not only possible but also achievable. It is also strongly recommended that SAARC summits should be more frequent so that the momentum of the agenda of air pollution is not lost.
Air pollution leads to atmospheric transport of pollutants, affecting countries of the region in more than one ways, thus making air pollution a regional issue. Being a regional problem, no one country, especially in a poor and diversified region like South Asia, can tackle it at its own.
Lack of financial support, skilled and trained manpower, technology and technical know-how further limit one single country capability to handle it. As air pollution impacts the region, to combat it, a regional focus and approach is essential in which all member countries of the region have a role to play with equal but diversified responsibilities.
The objective of a Legally Binding Agreement for South Asia (LBA-SA) should be to protect human health and ecosystem by setting up time framed air pollution reduction targets.
Some salient features of the envisaged LBA-SA could be: (a) the recognition of the problem of increasing air pollution in South Asia and its resulting environmental, economical and health impacts on the population of the region (b) reduction of air pollution through the exchanges of information, consultation, research, monitoring., policy and assessments. (c) the recognition that obligations regarding control and reduction of emissions of agreed air pollutants, should allow for flexible and differentiated national programs, to be implemented by individual parties to the agreement. This would be to achieving the most cost-effective and environmentally benign improvements of air quality in the whole region.
For the implementation and further development of the programme for monitoring and evaluation of long-range transmission of air pollutants, a comparable or standardised procedure for monitoring is strongly recommended which should be based on the framework of both national and international programmes.
Mechanisms would also need to be established for capacity building, finance, intra-state available technology transfer, knowledge and information exchange. The specific elements of the LBA may be further built up on the above to address/accommodate “Policy Actions at the National and Regional Levels.”
The LBA-SA should acknowledge and ensure an active role of civil society in the development and implementation of the LBA-SA and finally, among others, the LBA-SA should establish effective and enforceable treaty compliance provisions.
Importantly, such an instrument would encourage governments to pass legislation in their respective countries, set up or revise and improve minimum emission standards for industrial, vehicular and brick kiln emission, use of filters to clean emissions and improved fuel quality, banning the use of unclean or ‘dirty’ fuels for domestic or industrial consumption.
This article was originally published at: The News
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.