UK consultancy in Delhi action amidst pollution episode

UK-based environmental consultancy business Ricardo Energy & Environment is working with the Indian government on tackling air quality, following an air pollution episode in New Delhi that shut down the city.

New Delhi

New Delhi has been hit by an air pollution episode over the past month

The recent pollution episode in New Delhi was a particularly bad one. Declared an emergency by the Indian government, it shut down schools and halted construction and industry. Ben Grebot, technical business manager at Ricardo, told about the challenges ahead for tackling air pollution in India and beyond.

With an air quality team of over 100 expert staff worldwide, Ricardo offers a range of air quality services – from evidence based advice and modelling, through to detailed technical solutions.

With one of its international offices located in Delhi, Ricardo emissions policy specialists are currently working in partnership with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and with support from the Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation on improving way in which emissions standards are set in India.


“You only have to see some of the reports that have come out in recent weeks to see how bad some of these [air pollution] episodes can be,” Mr Grebot says.

Yet the reasons why Delhi has been hit so badly are complex, Mr Grebot claims, with factors from a dense population, dirty transport and emissions sources that are harder to challenge, such as small industry and households cooking with fossil fuels.

Seasonal crop burning also releases a large amount of pollution, which under certain weather conditions can engulf the city. “Up to 30% of pollution in Delhi comes from outside Delhi, which makes it harder to challenge,” Mr Grebot said.

“You need to have better evidence to understand how best to target the problem.” – Ben Grebot, technical business manager at Ricardo

This year, particularly lengthy Diwali celebrations paired with bad weather conditions meant that pollution remained trapped over the city.

But another reason for the persistent pollution is perhaps just as hard to crack — “Unfortunately the final point is political,” Mr Grebot says. “There is something of a political deadlock at the moment, with conflict around actions on air pollution. There is often a lot of talk about what’s needed, but because there is a lot of opposition between parties, the right things aren’t always happening.”


Ricardo is currently working with organisations and NGOs in India on solutions for tackling air pollution. Currently, the business is in discussions with central government and cities about the quality of the data on air quality being gathered.

“There are a large number of monitoring stations and [the Indian government] are looking to extend that, but there are real challenges with the quality of the data “, Mr Grebot says. “You need to have better evidence to understand how best to target the problem.

“The one area that would add real value is to have a more systematic approach to health impacts, in particularly the way in which all the policies and measures to take forward are assessed.”


Public pressure has certainly been building in India, Mr Grebot says, adding that the nature of the episodes forces a level of attention that is often lacking in the UK. “Air quality is often front page news, and you don’t really get that in the UK in the same way.”

Unfortunately, actions to improve air quality are likely to cost businesses in the short term, Mr Grebot says, and the success of these actions will depend on whether the government would consider grants or support. “I think [the government] is reluctant to target some of these [polluting] sectors because they have an economic benefit.”

Delhi is not alone in this, however. “Even in places like London now we’re still not meeting standards. It’s challenging,” Mr Grebot says.

In terms of solutions, Mr Grebot notes that while the Indian government has made a number of proposals, “longer term solutions are where you get the real benefit.” This could include things like controlling the crop burning better, changing the public transport stock as well as the clean fuel and emission standards.

“My hope and belief is that things are going to have to change,” Mr Grebot says. “This most recent episode has really ramped up the attention, and not just internally but also externally.

“It was near front page news in the UK. That sort of international pressure does actually influence governments, we’ve seen that in China as well. I think this pressure will ultimately force through further action — exactly how far that goes is difficult to say.”


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