The Potential of Lower Vehicular Emissions in Indian Cities

Tracking progress
Cities India

There are currently around 90 cities that India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) identified as critically polluted. Particulate matter (PM), especially fine particulate matter (PM2.5), dominates the concern. Other air pollutants such as NO2, ozone (O3), and air toxics are also problematic. The health problems caused by these pollutants are affecting not only large cities, but also many smaller, rapidly expanding cities across India.

Vehicles are one of the most important contributors of these pollutants. They are generally the dominant emitters of NOx. Vehicles are also significant emitters of PM, though their share of PM emissions varies from city to city. Studies of certain cities have found vehicles to account for as much as half of all PM emissions. Worse, almost all vehicular PM emissions are fine particles (PM2.5), which can travel deeper inside lungs and are emitted directly into the breathing zones of large numbers of people. Vehicles are also important contributors to ozone formation, as NOx and hydrocarbon (HC) emissions react in the air to form O3.

The ICCT recently developed a fleet emissions model to estimate the effect of various vehicular policies on future vehicular emissions in India. The business-as-usual (BAU) scenario modeled what India had accomplished through 2010, assumed ongoing trends would continue, and that no further policy action would be taken. An alternate scenario modeled what emissions would look like if India took various steps to control vehicular emissions. The alternative scenario which envisions the adoption of the most stringent vehicular emissions control policies, predicts almost 39,000 premature deaths can be avoided in India’s 337 largest cities in the year 2035 alone. Between 2012 and 2035, a total of over 425,000 premature deaths can be avoided. Undoubtedly, the benefits of lower vehicular emissions will continue beyond 2035. And many more lives can be saved from reductions in emissions of other pollutants as well. 

This briefing outlines concrete policy initiatives that can be implemented over the course of India’s 12th five-year plan to reduce harmful vehicle emissions. With continuous and improved monitoring, and determined implementation of these steps, substantial improvement in air quality within the most heavily polluted cities of India can be demonstrated over this period. The long-term public health and air quality benefits of these actions will be even greater.