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Report shows natural gas in industry sectors brings big air pollution cut

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Urban air quality remains a major threat to human health and well being across the globe. On average, pollution reduces global life expectancy by 1.8 years, which is worse than smoking and road accidents.

The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to sound the alarm about the urgent problem of air pollution, killing 7 million every year and costing economies trillions of dollars in health, welfare and productivity losses, for the 90% of world population who breathe polluted air.

The United Nations also recognizes the fight for cleaner air as a top priority in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the aim of reducing "the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination" by 2030.

Earlier this year, the Special Rapporteur to the Human Rights Council of the UN presented a case for recognizing clean air as a human right, because air pollution has negative impacts "the right to life and the right to health, in particular by vulnerable groups."

As WHO reported, "Ambient air pollution levels remained mostly stable over the past 6 years with the only exception of some parts of Europe and Americas."

It is a very real and very dangerous issue that was responsible for some 12.5% of 2017 deaths in India, and it has to be addressed with the highest sense of urgency by authorities. The 2019 Urban Air Quality report showcases three great cases of how that can be done, using natural gas as an effective tool for cleaning up the air. It is a formidable challenge, but not one that good governance, prudent policy, and a well-planned multi-stakeholder approach cannot solve.

Armed with the latest supporting data, the examples above, and other urban area case studies presented in the IGU's 20152016 and 2018 urban air quality studies, the IGU supports policies that reduce GHG emissions and emissions of health-damaging air pollutants such as: 

  1. Encouragement of fuel switching;
  2. Prudent approaches to pricing environmental externalities, including carbon emissions;
  3. Policies enabling access to natural gas;
  4. Increased use of non-polluting renewable energies;
  5. Improvement of overall end-use energy efficiency, and increases in combustion efficiency (reducing or eliminating black carbon and other products of incomplete combustion).

Report highlights:

Morbi:

  • MORBI is a midsized city of the Gujarat region, known for its contribution in the global ceramic sector, with a total of 900 ceramic manufacturing units, which contribute significantly to the region's economy.
  • Until recently, coal gasification provided most of the energy in the sector, which resulted in severe air and water pollution.
  • In March, 2019, acting to remedy the situation, the National Green Tribunal issued a ban on the use of coal gasification technology in the ceramic units of Morbi-Wankaner area and ordered Gujarat Pollution Control Board to close down all the coal gasifiers of this area, for violating environmental standards.
  • The existing natural gas distribution infrastructure enabled an immediate switch to natural gas, which in turn produced dramatic environmental and air quality improvements.
  • The region's air quality readings saw a 75% reduction in PM2.5 levels, 72% reduction in PM10, and an 85% reduction in SO2.
  • It also resulted in elimination of some 3,150 thousand litres of wastewater per day, as using natural gas does not produce any.

London:

  • LONDON saw a gradual improvement in its air quality since the first introduction of its 1956 Clean Air Act
  • The Clean Air Act introduced social, economic, and technological changes to help reduce smoke and SO2 emissions, including relocation of power stations, changes in sources of household heating, and the creation of "smokeless" zones
  • These measures dramatically reduced the use of coal inside homes, which went from 28% in 1952 to zero, by the start of 1970s, and was replaced largely by natural gas and electricity, especially since 1965.
  • As a result, SO2 concentrations generated from household heating were significantly reduced, from more than 400 µg/m3 to less than 50 µg/m3.
  • Much more recently, the introduction of the Carbon Price Support program caused coal power generation to drop by 73% between 2013 and 2017, with the associated benefits in the reduction of air pollutants.
  • An important lesson from this experience in London is that prudently designed carbon pricing policy can deliver on both climate and clean air goals.

Bogota:

  • BOGOTA has been on an overall positive trend in management of its air pollution, showing up in reduced levels of PM10 and PM2.5 in recent years.
  • One large contributor to the improvement has been the city's bus rapid transport system (BRT) - Transmilenio - the system development first started in early 2000's, and it helped resolve the growing issues of traffic congestions resulting in drops of both emissions and air pollution
  • At present, the city of Bogotá and Transmilenio are taking further action to reduce city pollution and renewing 70% of their bus fleet, with 53% of the new vehicles to be fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG).
  • CNG buses will help cut PM emissions threefold, from 0.030 to 0.010 (g/kW-hr), and emissions of NOx fivefold - from 2.0 to 0.4.
  • Because the rollout is still in progress, the final outcomes of the switch are not available yet, but the city plans to monitor, measure and report the results, after its completion. The IGU will monitor this progress too.

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