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Huge city mulls new lockdown to combat crisis – but it's not Covid

While many of us are all too familiar with Covid-19 lockdowns, a city of more than 31 million people is now considering a pollution lockdown.

Schools have indefinitely closed in India’s capital as smog blankets the sun and fine particles in the air reach dangerously high levels across the city.

A weekend lockdown has been proposed and five coal-fired power plants have been closed in a bid to reduce the thick pollution in New Delhi.

Two Indian children attached to respiratory machines are pictured.
Indian children have been hospitalised with respiratory illnesses. Source: Reuters

These measures are on top of a city-wide shutdown of the construction industry and a ban on trucks which aren’t carrying essential goods.

Children have been hospitalised due to breathing problems, with paediatrician Dr Arvind Bountra telling Reuters their symptoms are linked to the pollution.

"There is some study that shows that the cognitive functions of the brain are also affected by these very small particles,” Dr Bountra said.

Severe pollution in New Dehli is seasonal, occurring as the weather cools and traps power station emissions, vehicle exhaust and smoke from burnt garbage.

Wednesday's air quality index labelled the situation as "very poor", measuring the polluted air at 386 on a scale of 500.

People walk through the haze in New Delhi where air quality has become so hazardous that a lockdown is being considered.
New Delhi's air quality has become so hazardous that authorities are considering locking down the city. Source: Reuters

Australia set to continue exporting coal to India

Australia is one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel exporters and sent record volumes of thermal coal to India in April. As of July Australia was the biggest importer of coal to India.

Despite committing to net zero emissions by 2050, Australia’s government has indicated it will continue to export coal and gas to developing nations as long as there is demand.

During his speech to assembled leaders at COP26 on November 2, Prime Minister Scott Morrison advised against raising the price of energy, adding technology would provide the solutions to emissions problems.

"(It will) achieve it in a way that does not deny our citizens, especially in developing economies, their livelihoods or the opportunity for a better quality of life," he said.

The Australia Institute's Richie Merzian is a former federal government representative at the United Nations climate talks, and worked for close to a decade at the Department of Climate Change and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

He argues Australia is "partially responsible as a coal supplier" for the pollution crisis swamping India.

Heavy pollution has become an annual occurrence in New Delhi. Source: Reuters
Heavy pollution has become an annual occurrence in New Delhi. Source: Reuters

Mr Merzian has just returned from COP26 in Glasgow, where he says the prime minister's speech "wasn't taken well" by other leaders.

"Australia's government tries to downplay its responsibility for climate change in order to sell more fossil fuels," he told Yahoo News.

"It's blatant, and it's not well received."

He labelled Australia's eagerness to supply India with cleaner coal as an "empty" gesture when it comes to solving the climate crisis.

The United Kingdom's US$8.5 billion (AU$11.6 billion) investment to help South Africa transition off coal is the model Australia should adopt when seeking to help India, he believes.

"Instead, we just want to flog more fossil fuels," he said.

Senator argues COP26 ended with 'huge win' for coal

Coal accounts for 70 per cent of India’s power, and the country has resisted phasing out the fossil fuel.

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has committed to reach net zero by 2070.

The nation was responsible for a watering down of language in the final COP26 agreement which ended with a call for nations to "phase down" rather than "phase out” coal.

This week, Queensland Nationals senator Matt Canavan labelled the outcome of the summit "a huge win for coal".

"Given the fact that the agreement did not say that coal needs to be phased down or taken out, it is a green light for us to build more coal mines," he said.

Australia and India's reliance on coal looks set to continue well into the future.

with Reuters

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