Clearing the Air

Interventions to limit vehicular emissions

Sanjib Pohit, Professor, NCAER
Soumi Roy Chowdhury, Senior Research Consultant, The George Washington University

It seems that there is no respite from air pollution in Delhi. Bad air seems to be the norm unless rain/strong winds am­e­liorate the situation. In Delhi, air pollution levels in the past 10 years have been consistently above 100 g per m³, which is more than 10 times the permissible li­mit. Existing research shows that this lea­ds to a reduction of nine years from the life expectancy of an average Delhiite.

In spite of intervention by the court, the burning of crop residue goes unchecked. Delhi needs to look inwards and introsp­ect on the extent to which it can reduce emissions that are under its control. Can it make a subtle difference in limiting vehi­cular emissions through policy interven­tio­ns? Mind it, fossil fuel-based vehicles contribute nearly 39 per cent of the total air pollution in Delhi. So, the question is whe­ther policy intervention can substantially reduce the size of this pie. Of cour­se, co­m­plementary policy intervention is re­quir­ed to reduce air pollution originating from road dust (18 per cent), industries (14 per cent) and construction activities (8 per cent).

Multisector policy interventions are probably the only way to clean the air in the co­untry, including Delhi. Over the yea­rs, the Indian government has constituted multiple institutions and policies for monitoring and promoting air quality. Notable among them is the tightening of the emi­ssion limits for particulate matter (PM) from the transport sector.

The In­dian government has also adopted a more stringent level of emission standards, namely, BS-VI, for all vehicles manufactured on or after April 1, 2020. This will bring India’s motor vehicle regulations in direct alignment with the European Union regulation on emission standards (ICCT – 2016 and India BS-VI Standards). This is in addition to the earlier measure from 2001 that adopted compressed natural gas as the fuel for all public transport in Delhi. Recognising the gravity of the issue of air pollution, further targets towards ele­ctrification of public transport fleets and hy­drogen fuel vehicles have been proposed by NITI Aayog in its policy document for building a new India. To encourage the growth of electric vehicles (EVs), the central government has introduced the Fame I and II schemes, which provide subsidies to buyers for purchasing EVs. The scrappage policy for old vehicles is now also in place. In 2019, the Delhi government came up with a draft EV policy, through which it supported the EV subsidy model and set up targets for the next five years. Lastly, only diesel vehicles that are younger than 10 years and petrol vehicles that are younger than 15 years are now allowed to ply in Delhi.

Will these policy interventions limit emissions from the transportation sector in Delhi? This has been judged by calibrating the International Vehicle Emissio­ns (IVE) model, the popular worldwide policy tool for such analysis, using data on the characteristics and usage patterns of Delhi’s vehicles. To be specific, IVE assu­mes that the total amount of emissions is a function of the number of vehicles by type, the emission levels of these different ty­pes of vehicles, and the average distan­ce covered every day by these vehicles. The data needed for calibrating the model to simulate the Delhi transport sector is mainly drawn from published government sources such as registration data on new vehicles; emission data on PM, hydrocarbon (HC), carbon mo­no­xide (CO), and nitrogen oxides (NOX) levels from the Central Pollution control board; retirement of vehicles as per government norms ave­rage distance travelled and vehicle usage based on previous da­ta Google’s Com­munity Mobility Report etc. The model is calibrated taking into account the downturn effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on vehicle sales.

Three scenarios have been devised. The first is the optimistic scenario (OPS), which assumes that all of the set policy targets of the Indian government will be realised as planned. The two primary policies that come under OPS are promotion of clean fuels (BS-VI) for the automotive sector and transition to EVs. The second scenario is the pessimistic scenario (PES), whi­ch assumes that the implementation of all the OPS targets will eventually take place, but with a delay of three years on account of India’s bureaucratic set-ups. The third, the business as usual scenario (BAU), assumes no policy interventions in the transport se­ctor and a status quo to be in operation for the coming de­cade, which is our reference scenario for comparison. Some specific details of the scenarios are provided in the table.

We predict a moderate decline in PM, HC, CO, and NOX emissions in the OPS owing to the proposed introduction of BS-VI and battery electric fuel vehicles. Our analysis suggests that in the OPS, emissions from PM, CO, HC, and NOX will fall by 53 per cent, 1 per cent, 27 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively, by 2030. A reduction of 53 per cent in PM emissions from the transport sector in the OPS would amount to a 20.67 per cent decrease in the overall PM emission level in the city by the year 2030. The transition of two-wheelers into EVs can be a major driver for a 9 per cent emission difference between the OPS and BAU scenarios. CO emission levels are expected to rise by 16 per cent and 40 per cent from the 2021 levels in the PES and BAU scenarios respectively.

In sum, policy interventions may lead to some reduction in emissions in Delhi. How­ever, multi-front action is needed for the successful implementation of these po­licies. There is a need to discourage pe­r­­so­nal use of vehicles among citizens through various incentive/disincentive mechanisms such as increased parking fees, increased tax on fuel/vehicles, pede­strian-friendly policies, a non-fossil-fuel-ba­sed transportation system, and increas­ed reach of public transport. Carpooling as an alternative should also be endorsed. The government should promote public transport through aggressive subsidisation of Delhi Transport Corpor­ation (DTC) and metro services. EVs have the potential to be the major driving force in emission reduction in the coming years. There is a need for the government to subsidise EVs, promote investment in the critical battery technology, and find innovative ways to expand the fast battery charging network in the city to promote EVs.

But the slowdown in the economy has hit the transport sector hard, and it is currently reeling from the downturn. This has reduced the automotive sector’s ability to invest in EV technologies. Therefore, the auto sector has been depending on im­p­orts for critical components for some time now. Recently, in September 2021, the go­v­ernment announced a large-scale production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme am­ou­nting to Rs 260.58 billion for the auto sector. The focus of the auto sector PLI sc­heme is primarily on promoting the ma­nufacture of EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. This is definitely a positive step towards reducing emissions from the transportation sector in cities like Delhi.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ personal views.

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