India launches new bid to battle dirty air

Toxic air was responsible for 1.24 million premature deaths in India in 2017 according to a study published last year in Lancet Planetary Health. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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India launches new bid to battle dirty air

  • Environmental groups autiously welcomed the announcement
  • ‘The plan was long overdue and is a great step forward but we need to have clarity on targets and accountability’

NEW DELHI: India has launched a new campaign to improve air quality in more than 100 of its pollution-stricken cities, although an environment group said it lacked detail and the legal backing to ensure it is enforced.
Air quality in the country of more than 1.25 billion people has deteriorated to critical levels in recent years, with the capital New Delhi and 13 other Indian cities in the top 15 of a UN list of the world’s most polluted cities.
Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan said late Thursday the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) will cover 102 cities and aim to cut levels of the most dangerous particles under 10 microns in diameter by 20 to 30 percent by 2024.
The particles are blamed for growing numbers of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease in Indian cities.
The government has allotted three billion rupees ($42 million) to implement the plan which aims to plug the main pollution sources — industrial and traffic emissions, the mass burning of agricultural waste and construction — without setting out how this will be done.
Vardhan said only that the NCAP would carry out “comprehensive mitigation actions for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.”
Environmental groups, who have long accused the government of dragging its feet in the battle against pollution, cautiously welcomed the announcement.
“The plan was long overdue and is a great step forward but we need to have clarity on targets and accountability,” Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner for Greenpeace India, said.
“We hoped it would be much stronger in providing sector wise targets, specific targets for cities and mention strong legal backing to take action for non-implementation.”
The initiative will also increase pollution monitoring and raise public awareness of the dangers.
India only has around 40 real-time pollution monitoring stations across the country, leaving huge blank spots where the population is unaware of any potential air pollution.
Toxic air was responsible for 1.24 million premature deaths in India in 2017 according to a study published last year in Lancet Planetary Health, which also said tens of millions of people face serious heath risks.
Delhi’s 20 million inhabitants suffer an annual blanket of poisonous smog in winter months when farmers in neighboring regions burn rice and wheat stubble.


Indonesia palm oil growers threaten retaliation over EU ‘intimidation’

Updated 23 March 2019
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Indonesia palm oil growers threaten retaliation over EU ‘intimidation’

  • Earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, warned that if the EU implements a ban on palm oil imports, Indonesia would retaliate strongly with possible bans on European products
  • Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil

JAKARTA: Biofuel producers in Indonesia called on the Indonesian government and EU to find a “win-win solution” to a dispute over legislation that will phase out palm oil manufacturing in the region, risking jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.
Earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, warned that if the EU implements a ban on palm oil imports, Indonesia would retaliate strongly with possible bans on European products, including passengers jets, train coaches, and motor vehicles.
“We want a win-win solution. Retaliation is not a favorable option but, eventually, what else can we do? It could become necessary if we keep being intimidated,” said Master Parulian Tumanggor, chairman of the Indonesia’s Biodiesel Producers Association.
“If they stop biofuel, millions (of workers and farmers) will become unemployed. We don’t want that,” he added.
Pandjaitan said that with Indonesia’s aviation industry expected to expand threefold by 2034, the country will require about 2,500 aircraft in the next two decades — a big market for European companies.
Aircraft demand from Indonesia is worth more than $40 billion and it will create millions of jobs.
“It’s a matter of survival. If they treat us like this, we will retaliate strongly. We are not a poor country, we are a developing country and we have a big potential,” Pandjaitan said in a briefing with the EU ambassador to Indonesia, Vincent Guerend, and European investors.
Darmin Nasution, chief economic minister, said Indonesia is considering a challenge to the EU legislation via the World Trade Organization, and will seek support from the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi spoke with her Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah, on the sidelines of Organization of Islamic Cooperation emergency meeting in Istanbul on Friday.
“We agreed to work together to fight against discrimination of palm oil in the EU,” she said via Twitter.
Nasution said palm oil contributed $17.89 billion to Indonesia’s economy in 2018 and almost 20 million workers depended on the plantations for their livelihood.
On March 13 the European Commission adopted new rules on biofuels based on sustainability criteria with a two-month scrutiny period. The EU said “best available scientific data” show palm oil plantations are a major cause of deforestation and climate change.
Palm oil plantations in Indonesia have resulted in massive deforestation on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Guerend acknowledged the importance of palm oil to Indonesia in terms of jobs, but said that there was some flexibility in the regulation.
“It will be further modified in a few years’ time. It’s not cast in stone forever as the industry is dynamic, expanding, and reforming, and we take that into account,” he said.
“Our invitation for everyone is to work on sustainability because it’s in everybody’s interest,” he added.