The Straits Times says

No masking the truth about smog

India's pollution crisis, which has led to a shortage of face masks in its capital, dramatises the stakes that all countries should have in an equitable global environmental regime. The festive fireworks and the mass burning of leftover straw by farmers played a role in the smog in New Delhi. However, these were but cyclical additions to structural factors such as India's mammoth dependence on coal-fired power capacity, which contributes to alarming levels of air pollution. Smokestack industries are not only a throwback to an economic past that India should be leaving behind, but also an indictment of the environmental future that it rightfully should be moving towards.

India is not alone among big carbon emitters to have smog so thick over its lands that it can be seen clearly from space. China shares the problem too, along with the environmental predicament of correcting practices from an ecologically irresponsible past, and meeting the economic demands of future generations.

Despite its woeful effects, coal is expected to account for more than 50 per cent of China's energy combination by 2020. In an unfailing reminder of the toll taken by pollution on everyday life, pollution reduces visibility in Beijing and grounds flights. Smog in Shanghai which shrouded a highway was blamed for a vehicle collision that caused fatalities. Singaporeans are no stranger to the haze that affects their lives periodically in grim reiteration of how much neighbours are harmed by environmental practices in the region as a whole. Reckless burning of forests in Indonesia harms its people intensely and also casts a pall on the health and economies of others. Climate change does not respect borders. Hence, nations must band together to fight a common scourge.

India, one of the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters, creditably has taken responsibility for the global future by ratifying the Paris global climate agreement. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has committed itself to ensuring that at least 40 per cent of its electricity will be generated from non-fossil sources by 2030. Initial setbacks along the way should not deter India from sticking to the spirit of the Paris agreement.

Given the role that CO2 emissions play in climate change, the Paris accord was historic in having agreed to cut emissions in an effort to keep the global average rise in temperatures below 2 deg C. India was a part of that effort, along with countries such as China and the United States. Lamentably, the arrival of a climate-change denier as the next president of the US might sabotage those efforts, despite the warning signs visible to all. However, other countries must stay committed and persevere in efforts to mitigate climate change and keep it high on the global agenda. While some are in denial and others at sixes and sevens, the majority should act resolutely to save the planet.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2016, with the headline 'No masking the truth about smog'. Print Edition | Subscribe