India, most polluted country calls itself a champion of global warming negotiations

Nearly 2.5 million people are dying early because of pollution in India followed by 1.8 million deaths in China. A WHO report stated that India constituted of 14 of the most polluted cities

India, most polluted country calls itself a champion of global warming negotiations

Mahendra Pandey

It is now known to all that India has most polluted air in the world and most related deaths occur in our country, but our Prime Minister and even the Environment Minister always tell that we are the champions of climate change and global warming negotiations.

It shows their ignorance on the subject because both are not independent topics but are closely interlinked. Most of the polluting gases are also responsible for global warming – it clearly means that without arresting pollution we cannot do anything to curb global warming. A recent study published in The Lancet tells that “Since air pollution and greenhouse gases often share common sources, mitigating climate change constitutes a major opportunity for direct human health benefits.”

Earlier The Lancet report claimed that pollution caused nine million deaths in 2015 - three times more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. India fared worst, with 2.5 million people dying early because of pollution, followed by China with 1.8 million deaths. World Health Organisation, released a report a few months back, found that 14 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in India. While Delhi, expectedly, features in the list, it is Kanpur, the second largest city of Uttar Pradesh, which has topped the chart. Besides Kanpur, three other cities from Uttar Pradesh--Agra, Lucknow and Varanasi--have made it to top polluted cities in the world. Gaya, Patna and Muzaffarpur from Bihar, and Jodhpur and Jaipur from Rajasthan are among the most polluted cities in the world.

The WHO report said that more than 90% of air pollution-related deaths take place in low- and middle-income countries and nearly 40% of the world’s population do not have access to clean cooking fuels and technologies at homes, a major source of household air pollution.

The 2018 Report of the research coalition The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change shows that rising temperatures as a result of climate change are already exposing us to an unacceptably high health risk and warns, for the first time, that older people in Europe and the East Mediterranean are particularly vulnerable to extremes of heat, markedly higher than in Africa and SE Asia. The risk in Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean stems from aging populations living in cities, with 42% and 43% of over-65s respectively vulnerable to heat. In Africa, 38% are thought to be vulnerable, while in Asia it is 34%.

The report also states that ambient air pollution resulted in several million premature deaths from ambient fine particulate matter globally in 2015, a conclusion from the researchers confirming earlier assessments. Since air pollution and greenhouse gases often share common sources, mitigating climate change constitutes a major opportunity for direct human health benefits. Leading doctors, academics and policy professionals from 27 organizations have contributed analysis and jointly authored the report.

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) researcher Gregor Kiesewetter led a team from the Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases research program that estimated the dangers of air pollution to human health. A new and important finding this year was the global attribution of deaths to source. Kiesewetter and the team found that coal alone accounts for 16% of pollution-related premature deaths, around 460,000, which they state makes phasing out coal-use a "crucial no-regret intervention for public health."

Large contributions to ambient air pollution come from the residential sector, mostly from solid fuels like biomass and coal. Industry, electricity generation, transport, and agriculture are also important contributors. While coal should be a key target for early phase-out in households and electricity generation as it is highly polluting, it is not all that should be done.

"The attribution shows that unfortunately an approach targeting a single sector or fuel won't solve the problem -- air pollution is a multi-faceted issue that needs integrated strategies cutting across many sectors, which will differ from country to country" says Kiesewetter.

The report contains a number of other headline findings: -

  • 157m more vulnerable people were subjected to a heatwave in 2017 than in 2000, and 18m more than in 2016.
  • 153bn hours of work were lost in 2017 due to extreme heat as a result of climate change. China alone lost 21bn hours, the equivalent of a year's work for 1.4% of their working population. India lost 75bn hours, equivalent to 7% of their total working population.
  • Heat greatly exacerbates urban air pollution, with 97% of cities in low- and middle- income countries not meeting WHO air quality guidelines.
  • Heat stress, an early and severe effect of climate change, is commonplace and we, and the health systems we rely on, are ill equipped to cope.
  • Rising temperatures and unseasonable warmth is responsible for cholera and dengue fever spreading, with vectorial capacity for their transmission increasing across many endemic areas.
  • The mean global temperature change to which humans are exposed is more than double the global average change, with temperatures rising 0.8°C versus 0.3°C.

Hugh Montgomery, co-chair of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change says: "Heat stress is hitting hard -- particularly amongst the urban elderly, and those with underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. In high temperatures, outdoor work, especially in agriculture, is hazardous. Areas from Northern England and California, to Australia are seeing savage fires with direct deaths, displacement and loss of housing as well as respiratory impacts from smoke inhalation."

The report, which looks at 41 separate indicators across a range of themes, says urgent steps are needed to protect people now from the impacts of climate change. In particular, stronger labor regulations are needed to protect workers from extremes of heat and hospitals and the health systems we rely on need to be better equipped for extreme heat so they are able to cope. But the report also stresses that there are limits to adapting to the temperature increases, and if left unabated, climate change and heat will overwhelm even the strongest of systems, so the need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical.

2018 has been an even hotter year in many parts of the world and the World Weather Attribution Study for northern Europe showed this summer's heat wave was twice as likely to have happened as a result of man-made climate change. Of the 478 global cities surveyed in the report, 51% expect climate change to seriously compromise their public health infrastructure.

Other findings of the report include: a new indicator mapping the extremes of precipitation that identifies South America and southeast Asia among the regions most exposed to flood and drought and, on food security, the report points to 30 countries experiencing downward trends in crop yields, reversing a decade-long trend that had previously seen global improvement. Yield potential is estimated to be declining in every region as extremes of weather become more frequent and more extreme.

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