NEW DELHI: I have spent the past month on a diet of protein bars and in the costume of an air pollution mask as I trained every morning for the Delhi Half Marathon. I made for quite the sight … neon coloured track pants, recently dyed blond hair, and a thick, pudgy black mask that seems more suited to the sets of a sci-fi Hollywood movie than Lodhi Gardens on a quiet Tuesday morning.

On Saturday night, I went to bed early, having already laid out my clothes -- and mask -- for the important early morning ahead of me. I woke up in a coughing fit a few hours before the time my alarm was set to go off. Alarmed (no pun intended) at the thought I may have picked up a cold (the dreaded “change of season” flu everyone in Delhi is all too familiar with), I popped a myriad number of tablets, easily accessible thanks to my well-stocked Delhi-life and weather prepared medicine cabinet. A few hours later, I felt no better. Darn, there went the Half Marathon -- but having lived in Delhi for a few years now, I am fairly used to having to cancel plans that I was looking forward to, for reasons relating to health, traffic, or tardiness (on the part of someone else involved).

As I sat in bed with the morning papers, I noticed that the US Embassy’s air quality monitor showed a reading of 283 this weekend -- so hazardous that the embassy, located in one of the greenest parts of the Indian capital, advised against all outdoor activities. My coughing fit was my body’s way of telling me that it was in no condition to run 21 kms when the city’s air was five times more polluted than what India considers acceptable, and 11 times more polluted than the figure recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Delhi is notorious for being the most polluted city in the world. According to the WHO, six of the ten most polluted cities are in India (in order: Delhi (1), Patna (2), Gwalior (3), Raipur (4), Ahemdabad (9), Lucknow (10)). The impact of this noxious level of pollution ranges from asthma to cancer, and yet, pollution seems to be the lowest on the list of priorities for the Indian government.

The BJP-led government came to power at the centre on the promise of economic growth. More industries, more burning of fossil fuels, more methane gas production… the list goes on. Indians, educated and uneducated alike, are lapping it up in the hope and desire to be the next big superpower (one-third of Indians living below the poverty line and 100 percent of Indians suffering major pollution-caused health problems not counting).

This attitude has enabled the Indian government to be one of the biggest roadblocks in efforts to tackle climate change, as India has consistently resisted declaring a peaking year. The Indian government has used its rapid economic growth and its status as a developing country to resist impositions on its carbon emissions, and is in fact, leading the list in terms of the biggest increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, India is the third largest carbon emitter in the world (the US and China are number one and two, respectively).

However, nowhere in the world is a move toward cleaner energy more important and pressing than in India. Take the example of cooking chullahs -- themselves part of the reason for the permanent haze of pollution across India. Chullahs are stoves that use fuelwood and trash as cooking fuel. Surveys suggest that about 100 million Indian homes use chullahs as their primary mode of cooking, lighting it two to three times a day.

Not only are these chullahs ineffective in their design, but the fuel they use -- dried cow dung, agricultural waste, and firewood -- are inefficient sources of energy that release high levels of smoke, PM10 particulate matter, NOx, SOx, PAHs, polyaromatics, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and other air pollutants. Some reports, including one by the World Health Organization, claim 300,000 to 400,000 people die of indoor air pollution and carbon monoxide poisoning in India every year because of biomass burning and use of chullahs. Their effect on the air is as depressing: chullahs are a known contributor to air pollution, directly linked in fact to the Asian brown cloud which is delaying the start of the monsoon every year and leading to tremendous loss of crops and means of livelihood.

But what choice do the families who use chullahs have? The government has not done enough to make other forms of energy available to the majority of Indian households. In fact, on the contrary, India is the world's largest consumer of fuelwood, agricultural waste and biomass for energy purposes. From the most recent available nationwide study, India used 148.7 million tonnes coal replacement worth of fuelwood and biomass annually for domestic energy use. India's national average annual per capita consumption of fuelwood, agri waste and biomass cakes was 206 kilogram coal equivalent.

Chullahs are just one tiny part of the narrative. Add to that burning leaves (a common site across urban and rural areas as people try to stay warm), gases emitted from old and ineffective power plants (compared to the average emissions from coal-fired, oil-fired and natural gas-fired thermal power plants in European Union (EU-27) countries, India's thermal power plants emit 50 to 120 percent more CO2 per kWh produced) and industrial sources, traffic congestion, fuel adulteration… the list goes on.

The result: The Global burden of disease study for 2010, published in 2013, had found that outdoor air pollution was the fifth-largest killer in India and around 620,000 early deaths occurred from air pollution-related diseases in 2010.

Yet, no one cares, not even the Indians directly affected by all of the above -- as we continue to reward unrestricted and environmentally hazardous economic growth while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at the Climate Summit in Paris today, where India (check the headlines if you don’t believe me) is expected to promise little to nothing toward tackling the very real problem of climate change in the world, and pollution within its own borders.