By Anita Kuma
NEW DELHI — In the world’s most polluted city, a layer of smog hangs over everything, thicker year after year.
Dirty exhaust pours out of the more than seven million cars clogging the streets. Smoke from the open fires built for heating and cooking fills the air. White plumes puff steadily out of tall towers at the coal-fired power plants.
Thus, it’s no surprise that after the United States and China, the world’s two largest carbon emitters, reached a historic climate change deal in November, attention quickly turned to the third: India.
But even though the air in India kills people, grounds planes and contributes to the warming of the planet, its leaders are unlikely to succumb to any pressure for a significant change when President Barack Obama meets Sunday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with climate change high on the agenda.
Modi, the popular leader who took office last year after a landslide victory, has made growing the economy and alleviating poverty his top priorities, even if that contributes to climate change…
…Michael Greenstone, who runs the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, said Indians may eventually be spurred into action by health concerns because the same fossil fuels that cause climate change produce air pollution.
Thirteen of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in India, according to the World Health Organization. New Delhi topped the list.
Air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death in India, leading to 67,000 premature deaths in 2010, according to an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based research group. And by 2050, 40 million people in India could die from rising sea levels, according to the Center for Global Development’s Climate Vulnerability.
“It may well be that until there is more real public demand and recognition of health costs it will not be focused on this,” Greenstone said. “This is an opportunity for India to do something for its citizens. It’s out there to be had.”
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