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China at first pushed back against the outcry and demanded foreign embassies cease publishing air-pollution data. But the government eventually owned up to the problem as pollution levels continued to soar to new records. In 2014, President Xi Jinping admitted air pollution was the “most prominent problem” facing Beijing, and the country responded with a national plan to reduce it with a $270 billion war chest.
In the years since, China restricted the number of cars on the road in cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, while capacity in China’s emissions-heavy iron and steel industries fell and new coal-fired power plants were banned in some areas, according to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, or EPIC.
Air pollution declined 42.3% between 2013 and 2021, according to the institute, which said China’s efforts were the sole reason behind the modest drop in global pollution levels during that period.
In Delhi, meanwhile, heavy air pollution remains a fact of life, especially for the many who work outdoors and lack access to luxury solutions like air purifiers and effective face masks.
To be sure, Indian authorities have made some progress in tackling air pollution in recent years. In 2019, the government launched a National Clean Air Programme charged with disbursing funds to cities across the country to help clean the country’s air.
In other areas, progress has been at the local level. They include expanded public transport options in New Delhi, regulations requiring city buses use natural gas and restrictions on farm fires that have resulted in a reduction in their number in recent years.
According to data collected by the Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi research group, the level of PM 2.5 — microscopic, cancer-causing pollutants that travel deep into lungs — averaged 98 during the three years through 2023, down 28% from the three-year period ending in 2017.
The pace of improvement, however, has slowed in recent years, and some new measures, like outdoor “smog towers,” do little to clean filthy air.
Will India like China be able to tackle the pollution crisis?