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India’s sulphur dioxide emissions came down by 6 per cent in 2019: Report


BENGALURU: India's sulphur emissions fell by 6% in 2019 from 2018, the first time levels declined in four years, owing to a reduction in the use of coal, according to the annual sulphur dioxide emissions report by Greenpeace India and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. Sulphur dioxide is a toxic gas released from smelting and burning of fossil fuels such as coal. Exposure to the gas can cause a burning sensation in the nose, throat and lungs; breathing difficulty and harm to the respiratory system.

Along with China and Russia, India contributes over 21% of global emissions of the gas. The year 2019 was also the second year on record that SO2 emissions decreased in all three countries. “In 2019, renewable energy capacity expanded, coal dependency decreased and we saw a corresponding improvement in air quality. But our air is still far from safe. We must speed up the energy transition away from coal and towards renewables. We need to prioritize access to electricity for the poor,” says Avinash Chanchal, Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace India.

Although still dangerously high, global SO2 levels continued to fall through 2020, probably because of a pandemic-induced fall in energy demand. The largest reductions were in the coal and smelter sectors. Satellites detected a significant drop in the amount of SO2 over many industrial areas, the report said.

Still too high

Despite the improvement, India’s emissions remain very high, primarily due to the expansion of coal energy in the past two decades.The majority of fossil fuel power plants in India lack flue-gas desulfurization technology to control sulphur emissions. The report found that the biggest emission hotspots are thermal power stations or clusters in Singrauli, Neyveli, Sipat, Mundra, Korba, Bonda, Tamnar, Talcher, Jharsuguda, Kutch, Surat, Chennai, Ramagundam, Chandrapur, Visakhapatnam and Koradi. Data from American space agency NASA quoted in the report showed 10 coal plants in India are among the top 50 SO2 emission hotspots in the world. A graph of 25 of the biggest sulphur- emitting countries showed India was leading with nearly 6,000 kilotonnes in 2019.

Fixing the problem

The Union Environment Ministry introduced emission limits for coal-fired power plants in December 2015. “However, the deadline of December 2017 for installing fluegas desulfurization in power stations was shifted to 2022 after all units failed to install the technology within the given time frame. Yet most of the plants are operating without compliance,” the report said.