Hyderabad: Amongst the top 50 anthropogenic (human-made) SO2(sulphur dioxide) emission hotspots in the world, Visakhapatnam ranked 27, according to the annual analysis of the Greenpeace India and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
SO2 is a colourless poisonous gas which can make it harder for us to breathe, especially for those with underlying respiratory conditions. Norilsk smelter in Russia ranks first in the world. Singrauli thermal power station in Madhya Pradesh ranks sixth in the world and first in India for the highest emission of gas.
Telangana’s Ramagundam and Kothagudem thermal power stations also figure among the top SO2 emitters in the world.
The report ranks the world’s biggest emitters of sulphur dioxide, a poisonous pollutant that increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and premature death.
As per the latest report, the biggest emission hotspots are thermal power stations (or clusters of power stations) at Singrauli, Neyveli, Sipat, Mundra, Korba, Bonda, Tamnar, Talcher, Jharsuguda, Kutch, Surat, Chennai, Ramagundam, Chandrapur, Visakhapatnam and Koradi.
In 2019, India had registered 21% of global anthropogenic SO2 emissions, nearly double that of the second-ranked global emitter, Russia. China occupies the third position while India stood at the fifth position as the top SO2 emitter for the fifth consecutive year.
For the first time in four years, India’s sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions recorded a significant decline of approximately 6% in 2019.
SO2 is an invisible gas whose biggest source is the emission of fossil fuels, including coal, oil and gas.
The report states that “the renewable energy capacity has been increasing in India’s power sector, delivering more than two-thirds of the subcontinent's new capacity additions during the FY 2019-20. However, these efforts are overshadowed by the fact that most of the power plants in India lack flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) units. The FGD units are critical in the process of reducing emissions.”
“We are seeing a reduction in SO2 emissions in the top three emitter countries. In India, we’re getting a glimpse of how a reduction in coal usage can impact air quality and health. 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, for our health and economy. While ensuring just transition of energy with the help of decentralised renewable sources, we need to prioritise access to electricity for the poor,” says Avinash Chanchal, Climate Campaigner, Greenpeace India.
In 2015, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) introduced SO2 emission limits for coal power stations. However, power plants missed the initial deadline of December 2017 for the installation of FGD units.
Though the deadline was extended till 2022, as of June 2020, most of the power plants are operating without compliance to standards. Five years after setting the SO2 emission limits, the Indian government has decided to shut down non-compliant thermal power stations and has also allocated Rs 4,400 crore to tackle the air pollution crisis.
“SO2 emissions are affecting the health of millions of people directly and worse through converting to PM2.5. The most efficient and the easiest way to reduce PM2.5 levels is to install FGD and reduce SO2 emissions from power plants as they form a significant fraction of total PM2.5 pollution at different locations across the country. Every single day delay in implementation of prescribed norms and not installing the FGD system is causing huge health and economic damage to our society, it’s time the offenders/non-complying power plants are pulled up for inaction and damage to the society to ensure better implementation,” says Sunil Dahiya, analyst, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
It’s high time that governments reduce investments in fossil fuels and shift to safer energy sources, such as wind and solar. Simultaneously, they must also strengthen emission standards and effectively implement flue-gas pollution control technology on coal-fired power plants, smelters and other major industrial SO2 emitters.