Clean Air Roadmap

Air pollution is a major issue in Pakistan and requires the immediate attention of policymakers.

By Dr. S. Shafiqur Rehman | April 2021


London was long known for its distressful atmospheric conditions where a blend of fog and smoke made breathing fresh air nearly impossible for citizens in winter. The Great London Smog of December 1952, that took thousands of lives in eastern London within a week due to a dense envelope of smoke-filled stagnant air hovering for five days at a stretch, is considered a turning point in environmental legislation. The trauma was so intense and its effects so long-lasting that it necessitated proper parliamentary legislation to empower the government to regulate smoke emissions from industrial and domestic sources in accordance with the standards set for this purpose.

The enactment of the Clean Air Act 1956 of UK was the first legal instrument anywhere in the world designed to curb air pollution through regulatory provisions. Through the CAA 1956, a complete moratorium was enforced on the use of coal and emission of black smoke from any source, height of the smoke spewing chimneys was fixed, and industrial units asked to relocate outside human population centres. This was again re-enacted in 1968 with further improvements in regulatory provisions to control air pollution in the UK.

On the other side of the Atlantic, in the USA, the issue of air pollution was mainly dealt with by laws framed at state and county level till 1963. However, realizaing the necessity of a federal role to restrict air pollution, the US Congress passed the nation’s first Clean Air Act in 1963, authorizing the federal government to set emission standards for stationary and mobile sources and determine timelines for compliance. The CAA 1963 established a federal program within the U.S. Public Health Service and authorized research in techniques for monitoring and controlling air pollution. A few years down the line, the Clean Air Act was re-enacted in 1970 to empower the federal government to set up National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), State Implementation Plans (SIPs) and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs). Further amendments to CAA 1970 were made in 1977 and 1990.

A remarkable development to control the menace of air pollution was the signing of the first international treaty in 1979 by 32 member states of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), known as the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution to control damage to forests and the rest of the ecosystem from dispersal of various air pollutants. The treaty came into force in 1983.

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