Options Summer 2021: IIASA research informed a recent World Bank report outlining how governments can tackle the growing challenge of air pollution using the megacities Delhi, Beijing, and Mexico City as case studies.

Air pollution, linked to several million cases of premature deaths each year, is the largest environmental risk to human health worldwide. The problem is especially bad in India, one of the world’s most polluted countries.  

A recent World Bank report highlighting IIASA research examined the actions and policies of megacities to tackle air pollution. Part of a long-term collaboration between IIASA and the World Bank on identifying cost-effective strategies for air quality management in China, India, South Africa, and Vietnam, the report offers lessons on how governments can tackle the growing challenge of air pollution by examining Delhi, Beijing, and Mexico City. 

The research, led by IIASA researcher Pallav Purohit, shows that a large portion of air pollutant emissions in India originates from solid fuel used for cooking, poor waste management practices, and crop residue burning—all of which are associated with poverty and underdevelopment. However, sources of pollution are only partly within large cities. As much as 60% of air pollution in Delhi is caused by fine particulate matter that originates from outside the city. 

“There is no silver bullet for solving the problems associated with air pollution and only sustained political commitment will address this very serious issue,” explains Purohit. “Achieving clean air, which would save millions of premature deaths annually, needs integration over multiple policy domains, including environmental policies focusing on pollution controls, energy and climate policies, and policies to transform the agricultural production system.”