The Greenpeace Southeast Asia has released a report titled ‘Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels’. The report provides a global assessment of the health impact of air pollution from fossil fuels in 2018 and a first-of-its-kind estimate of the associated economic cost. The study is limited to the following pollutants: fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and only that pollution which is emitted by fossil fuel combustion (coal, oil, and gas).
Impact of Air Pollution on Health
Exposure to an air pollutant or combination of air pollutants, such as PM2.5, NO2 or ozone, is associated with an increased incidence of diseases including Ischaemic Heart Disease (IHD), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), lung cancer, lower respiratory infections, type II diabetes, etc.
Health impacts from air pollution generate economic costs through the cost of treatment, management of health conditions, and work absences.
Economic Cost of Air Pollution:
Air pollution from burning fossil fuels costs an estimated 3.3% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), equivalent to the US $8 billion per day and 12,000 premature deaths every day. China, the US and India bear the highest economic cost of soaring pollution, at an estimated $900 billion, $600 billion and $150 billion (5.4% of India’s GDP) a year, respectively.
The burden of PM2.5 :
PM2.5 air pollution leads to the greatest health impact and the greatest financial cost of the three pollutants (PM2.5, O3, NO2). Globally, air pollution is estimated to cause 4.5 million premature deaths each year. This includes 3 million deaths attributable globally to PM2.5.Pollution from PM2.5 costs 2.5% of the global GDP whereas pollution from O3 and NO2, each costs equivalent to 0.4% of global GDP.
PM2.5 is one of the principal pollutants in northern Indian cities including Delhi. The 2 million preterm births globally due to PM2.5 include 9,81,000 preterm births in India. The report links approximately 3,50,000 new cases of childhood asthma in India to nitrogen dioxide. As a result of this, over 1.28 million more children in India live with asthma, which is linked to fossil fuel pollution. In India, exposure to fossil fuels also leads to a loss of around 490 million workdays. India needs to increase its spending on the health sector. It needs to be noted that India spends around 1.28% of the GDP on health while air pollution from burning fossil fuels costs an estimated 5.4% of India’s GDP. The central government has allocated only Rs 69,000 crore for the health sector in the Union Budget 2020-21. The coal-fired power plants in India have repeatedly missed the emission deadline set by the Union Environment Ministry. Strict action should be taken against non-compliance of thermal power plants. The government should ensure the construction of new coal-fired power plants is halted and existing plants should be shut down in phases. Moving the energy generation sector from fossil fuels to renewables would help to prevent premature deaths and vast savings in health costs.
Source: Indian Express, Down to Earth,