India is the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic sulphur dioxide

India is the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic sulphur dioxide

Kamaraj IAS Academy | India is the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic sulphur dioxide
  • August 21, 2019, 6:25 pm

India is the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic sulphur dioxide


India is the world’s largest emitter of anthropogenic sulphur dioxide, which is produced from coal burning, and greatly contributes to air pollution, a study claimed, according to an analysis of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) data released by environmental NGO Greenpeace. India has more than 15% of all anthropogenic sulphur dioxide (SO2) hotspots in the world detected by OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument) satellite.

The NASA data also highlights other hotspots across the globe, with the Norilsk smelter complex in Russia being the largest SO2 emission hotspot in the world, followed by Kriel in Mpumalanga province in South Africa and Zagroz in Iran. However, as per country-wise world rankings, India was found at the top position in emitting SO2 as it has the maximum hotspots.


Key Findings

  • The report said SO2 emissions are a significant contributor to air pollution. The largest source of SO2 in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels in power plants and other industrial facilities.
  • According to the analysis, air pollution is a huge public health concern, with 91 percent of the world’s population living in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds guideline limits by the World Health Organization (WHO) and as a result, 4.2 million people die prematurely every year.
  • India is the world's largest emitter of anthropogenic sulphur dioxide, which is produced from the burning of coal, a study claimed on August 19.
  • The major SO2 emission hotspots in India are Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh, Neyveli and Chennai in Tamil Nadu, Talcher and Jharsuguda in Odisha, Korba in Chhattisgarh, Kutch in Gujarat, Ramagundam in Telangana and Chandrapur and Koradi in Maharashtra.
  • The vast majority of plants in India lack flue-gas desulfurization technology to reduce their air pollution, according to the analysis.


Steps taken by the government

In December 2015, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had introduced for the first time SO2 emission limits for coal power plants with an initial deadline to retrofit technology to control SO2 emissions from power generation by December 2017.

At the request of the Ministry of Power and power plant operators, this was later extended till December 2019 for power plants in Delhi-NCR and till 2022 for some other power plants across the country through a Supreme Court order.

Environment experts called for strict action on coal power plants. They said these plants should not be given a free hand to continue polluting and causing a health emergency situation in the country. We are facing an air pollution emergency and yet it is far from clear that power plants will meet even the extended deadlines to comply with pollution limits, both in Delhi and around the country.


India's dependence on coal

A report by the NITI Aayog in 2017 said that India’s dependence on coal will continue even after three decades from now with an estimated share of 42-50 per cent of the country’s energy mix. The report also revealed that the penetration of renewable energy will increase from 3.7 per cent in 2012 to 11-14 per cent in 2047.

India’s reliance on coal will persist even in 2047 with an envisaged share of 42-50 per cent in the energy mix. India would like to use its abundant coal reserves as it provides a cheap source of energy and ensures energy security as well. However, the NITI Aayog later clarified that the report does not represent the views of the government or that of NITI Aayog.

According to BP Energy Outlook 2019, coal’s share in India’s primary energy consumption will come down from 56 per cent in 2017 to 48 per cent in 2040. But the number shows that despite the government’s ambitious plans to increase the generation of renewable energy, India will be dependent on coal for around 50 per cent of its energy needs even in 2040.

According to data from the ministry of coal, electricity generation is responsible for two-thirds of India’s coal consumption, steel and washery industries 7 per cent and cement 1 percent.


Why SO2 is harmful

Sulphur dioxide is produced by burning fossil fuels and by the smelting of mineral ores that contain sulphur. It is harmful to the environment and humans as well. When sulphur dioxide combines with water and air, it forms sulphuric acid, which is the main component of acid rain. Acid rain can cause deforestation and can harm aquatic life. Besides this, acid rain is also harmful to humans as it can cause skin disease.

SO2 could affect the respiratory system, particularly lung function, and can irritate the eyes. It also causes coughing, mucus secretion and aggravates conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.


Other major issue of Plastic pollution

What is single-use plastic?

Single-use plastics are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. Items such as plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles are examples of single-use plastics. According to the Environment Ministry, about 20,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day in the country, out of which only 13,000-14000 tonnes are collected.


Why it is so harmful

Millions of tons of plastic are produced every year, most of which cannot be recycled. Plastic, which is non-biodegradable, breaks down into tiny particles after many years. In the process of breaking down, such plastic releases toxic chemicals. When plastics waste is not collected and disposed of properly, it may make its way into soil and water supply. Besides this, plastic waste, that lands up into or is thrown in water bodies, also affects marine life. Due to inadequate collection and recycling of such waste, toxic chemicals released during the degradation in soil or water bodies reach our food and water. Research indicates that such toxic chemicals may disrupt our endocrine system and also cause cancer, infertility, birth defects and many other ailments.

Steps taken by the government

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in August 2017 imposed an interim ban on the use, sale and storage of non-biodegradable plastic bags less than 50 microns in Delhi. Announcing the ban, the tribunal said that anyone found to be in possession of banned plastic would be fined Rs 5,000. The NGT also asked the Delhi government to seize entire stock of plastic in a week.

Besides this, the Modi government in June announced that it had decided to ban the import of plastic waste from August. The Centre had in 2015 banned import of solid plastic waste, but it allowed agencies in special economic zones (SEZ) to import them in 2016. Under the new rules, even SEZs were prohibited from importing plastic waste.

However, due to weak enforcement and the continuing popularity of plastic bags among retailers and consumers, the country has not been able to achieve substantial success in reducing the usage of plastics. Modi's appeal to people to give up single-use plastic, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, could well be the tipping point (towards compliance) in the fight against plastic waste.