In January 2019, India’s Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan declared a “war against pollution” and launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP). The payoffs from the successful implementation of NCAP could be substantial—my research suggests that the average person in India could be expected to live 1.3 years longer, and people in the most polluted areas, like Delhi, would live almost three years longer. For this reason alone, NCAP has the potential to become a historic and watershed moment in Indian environmental policy.
NCAP calls for a 20 to 30 per cent reduction in particulate pollution over the next five years. Reaching this goal will require a mix of pollution reduction schemes, increased monitoring, tightened enforcement, financial resources, and political will. This is no small task. That’s why it helps to remind ourselves why this is so critical. What would breathing cleaner air mean for the health and life expectancy of India’s people?
I’ve been working to answer that question for two decades and the results are dramatic. Our report titled – India’s ‘War Against Pollution’: An Opportunity for Longer Lives, finds that a 25 per cent reduction in particulate pollution in India (the midpoint of the NCAP’s goal) would yield vast improvements in life expectancy—as much as three years in the most polluted areas. That’s according to the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which I created along with my colleagues at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.
The AQLI is based on a pair of peer-reviewed studies in which my co-authors and I exploited a unique natural experiment in China. By comparing a set of the population that was exposed to prolonged exposure of high levels of pollution to those who were not, we were able to isolate the effect of air pollution from other factors that affect health, and to do so at the very high concentrations that prevail in China, India, and other countries today.
We then combined the results from these studies with hyper-localized, global particulate matter measurements, allowing users to zoom in on any district in the world and understand the impacts of that district’s local air pollution on life expectancy. This improves upon the existing AQI (Air Quality Index), which translates air pollution concentrations into colors without shedding light on what those colors mean for people’s wellbeing…..