Urban Air Pollution And Its Abatement


Urban life has always been so captivating to attract the flood of people towards urban areas worldwide. This picture keeps a dark reflection in terms of environmental harm. Urban air pollution has become a global challenge to mitigate GHGs emissions (PM 2.5, PM10, CO2, CO, VOCs, O3, NOx, SOx) associated with it.  Urban areas hold a number of enlightening facilities but also keep a jerking list of alarming environmental consequences. One of these urban environmental negativities is a cluster of GHGs being discharged into the air every moment. There are various sources of urban air pollution including fossil fuel burning, transportation, industrial sector, and open crop burning. Besides, affecting the environmental values, urban air pollution also imposes negative economic and health implications. The need is to realize that there still exist many winning opportunities for abating urban air pollution.  

The magnitude of exposure to urban air emissions is more drastic in developing countries as compared to developed countries. Urban GHGs emissions are responsible for developing various diseases in public, i.e., stroke, heart diseases, lung cancer and respiratory diseases. According to IPCC, more than 80% of the world’s population residing in urban areas is exposed to such high air quality levels which exceed the safe AQI limit of WHO i.e.,10 µg/m3. WHO states that, presently, 98% of cities of low and middle-income countries with more than 10000 residents have crossed the WHO air quality guidelines. On the other hand, in high-income countries, this figure decreases to 56%. According to European Environment Agency, 77% of the urban population in the EU is exposed to PM2.5 concentrations exceeding the WHO air quality guidelines. Keeping in view the urban emissions of Pakistan, in 2017 PM2.5 concentration in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, and Islamabad was 130 µg/m3, 40 µg/m3, 63 µg/m3 and 42 µg/m3 respectively.


Fossil fuel burning has been discussed dynamically in the existing environmental literature and is the major cause of urban air pollution. Fossil fuel burning is practiced worldwide in the industrial and transportation sector. Likewise, the causes of European urban emissions are mainly fossil fuel burning and agriculture. Replacing fossil fuel burning with renewable energy is the most valid thought to wipe out this harmful practice globally. Irrespective of the aspect of being a developed and developing country, installing rooftop solar panels in urban areas will generate own household electricity as a cheap approach. Secondly, instead of making the opposing debate about the right of developed and developing counties for exploring fossil fuels, it is essential for every nation to deadly minimize fossil fuel consumption in the industrial sector. This needed step will ensure the abatement of urban GHGs emissions on large scale.

The need is to bring interventions in transportation modes. Public transportation has always been a suitable idea for reducing fossil fuel consumption in the transportation sector. It will cause a worldwide reduction in the vehicular burden on the urban roads and help mitigate the individuals’ carbon footprint. Lahore is the second-largest city of Pakistan having a population growth rate of 4% and it is estimated that, currently, there are total 6.2 million vehicles in the city out of which 4.2 million are motorcycles. In the developed world with Norway as topmost country, E-Mobility has been adopted strongly as a transportation mode in the urban areas which replaces fuel oil, diesel, petrol, gasoline, and Sulphur-laden gas vehicles with e-electric vehicles and, similarly, Hydrogen vehicles are their other approach. However, there exists much flexibility in saying that the electric vehicle revolution should also be adopted in the same manner in the cities of developing countries as there are certain hurdles and uncertainties which need to be resolved. The vehicles must be checked strictly for the emissions coming from their engines. Euro 2, Euro 4 and Euro 6 vehicles are sustainable options as they limit the emissions of Sulphur but in developing countries like Pakistan until now only Euro 2 vehicles are feasible in urban areas.

The concept of green infrastructure needs to adopted globally as the trend of urbanization seems to keep multiplying in many coming decades. Afforestation is the most hailed solution politically and voluntarily for the urban GHGs abatement. The concept of green infrastructure integrates the application of afforestation in urban areas. Moss walls should be developed in the cities and trees should also be grown along the roadside as it adds to the architectural beauty and absorbs vehicular emissions simultaneously. Such buildings should be designed in the cities which have the element of green roofs and accommodate space for creating greenery at their outskirts. More geographical areas must be reserved for parks and green belts. It is all about greening the global urban areas. 

Open crop burning in the agricultural sector is another major cause of urban air pollution. Also, crop burning is historically seen as the cause of smog in megacities of London, the USA, and China, and, now, the same crises are evident in urban areas of Pakistan and India due to emitted GHGs. According to World Economic Forum 2019, the economic burden of agricultural crop burning on the GDP of Pakistan and India is 5.88% (5.1 trillion $US) and 1.7% (190 billion $US) respectively. Such high economic loss only due to crop burning can be imagined for all the urban areas of the world where this unsustainable agricultural practice exists. GHGs emissions of crop burning can be abated by improving and subsidizing the harvesting machines, and knowing the potential of crop residues for biofuel production and the paper industry.

In the modern world, every problem carries a contemporary solution and for the existing scenario, the need is to ensure practicality regarding the mentioned solutions for urban air pollution abatement. Policy gaps must be filled and government must take steps to replace fossil fuels by launching renewable energy projects and must subsidize the e-mobility and harvesting machines. Relevant governmental organizations and NGOs must step forward to green the urban areas to the fullest. Also, administrative bodies should ensure the strict implementation of legislation in the transportation sector.

About the Author: Rubab Nazar is pursuing her graduation in Environmental Science at GC University Lahore. Her research focus is Climate Change and Renewable Energy. Currently, she is a part of the Program Management Team of TENL.

Edited By: Madiha Razzaq


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