NASA show the sulphur dioxide emissions from India and China

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Scientists have been monitoring the two countries since at least 2005, noting a significant increase in India’s SO2 emissions over the years. Although sulphur dioxide is not directly considered to be a planet-warming greenhouse gas, it can be harmful to human health and the environment. When SO2 mixes with water vapour it creates acid rain, and can also mix with carbon in the atmosphere to form aerosols.

Aerosols can contribute to both the cooling and warming of the planet as they scatter the Sun’s light back into space but can also crate thick haze that contributes to global warming.

A report in Sky News has identified India as the world’s leading emitter of SO2, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to clean up the Indian economy.

Appearing at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Mr Modi pledged to curb India’s greenhouse emissions by 2070 and invest in green energy.

Sky’s India correspondent Neville Lazarus said: “It is the first time there is a commitment from India for net zero, 20 years later than the international deadline.

“Modi has made announcements on green energy and renewables to cutting fossil fuels by 50 percent.

“It will be a very difficult task, coal is the main output of their economy. They are the second-largest consumer of coal.

“70 percent of the grid is powered by coal, over 50 percent of its GDP solely relies on coal – so phasing it out will be a tough task.”

But Mr Lazarus then commented on the NASA findings.

He claimed: “Sulphur dioxide has been linked to millions of deaths.

“This graphic from NASA shows that while China’s sulphur dioxide levels have fallen, India’s has risen sharply.”

According to Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, the problem stems from a lack of concrete action and regulation on sulphur-filtering technology at power plants.

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He told Sky News: “The problem has come in two parts. The Indian Government didn’t acknowledge there was a problem until 2015 – there was no regulation before this.

“Since then, the problem has been one of a lack of enforcement. It’s been six years since the legislation, but most power plants are still a long way from installing the necessary technology.

“The power plants keep missing the deadlines for installation and then they are just given a new timeline further down the road.”

Satellite data published by NASA reportedly shows a steady increase in India’s SO2 emissions between 2005 and 2017, compared to an overall reduction in China’s output.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) short-term exposure to SO2 can cause problems to the respiratory system.

People with asthma and children, in particular, are said to be sensitive to the toxic gas.

SO2 emissions contribute to poor air quality and pollution, which according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for 4.2 million deaths globally each year.

A previous NASA report published in 2015 found that India’s emissions have doubled between 2005 and 2014, while the air over eastern China saw SO2 levels start to decline in 2007.

The US space agency attributed the difference to internal policies regulating pollutants.

NASA claimed: “China’s first major effort to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions began in 2007 in anticipation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“In 2011, as part of the government’s Five-Year Plan, officials set ambitious targets for emissions reductions.”

In contrast, India has been expanding its power sector without taking major steps towards minimising SO2 emissions.

SO2 is created through the burning of coal, fuel and gasoline, but can also be naturally released by volcanic activity.

NASA claimed: “The largest source of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels by power plants and other industrial facilities.

“National and regional rules to reduce emissions of sulphur dioxide can improve air quality.”

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