June 5 is globally celebrated as World Environment Day. The global environmental movement has achieved certain important milestones. However, a few days prior to this year’s World Environment Day, the US President Donald Trump took a major decision that can hamper the global pollution control effort.
On June 1, Trump pulled his country out of the Paris climate pact of 2015. Dubbing the pact as “unfair”, he said it gave undue advantage to India and China at the cost of his country. Trump said, “India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries.” He added that India was allowed to double its coal production by 2020 under the deal.
The aim of the Paris climate accord is to restrain global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.
The withdrawal of the US has made it difficult for the world to attain global greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. As part of its contribution towards this goal, the US had pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% compared to 2005 levels by 2025. The US is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world and emits 5,414 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. China emits about 10,357 million metric tonnes per year making it the largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
The US and China are the world’s top two polluters followed by India accounting for over 4% of global emissions. After signing the Paris accord on October 2, 2016, India pledged to reduce its carbon footprint by 33% to 35% from its 2005 levels by 2030. India emits about 2,274 million metric tonnes per year.
“Climate change is a global challenge. The US cannot continue to keep the world hostage. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement would mean that with 5% of the world population, the US will continue to jeopardise the remaining 95%. Countries need to hold the US accountable for decisions that have a global impact,” said Sunita Narain, Director General of the New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
“The future of the climate change regime has been shackled with this announcement. We are already on the path to a dangerous temperature rise of even up to 3° Centigrade. The only foreseeable future course would be for the remaining countries to come together to modify the Paris Agreement to make it effective,” said Chandra Bhushan, Deputy
Director General, CSE. While talking to BE about China’s role, Bhushan stated, “The leadership will be diffused and shared between EU, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Japan. In fact, India should carve a leadership role for itself by aligning with countries who share similar challenges and concern.”
Air pollution in India is becoming a major threat and its levels have risen by around 13% between 2010 and 2015. Greenpeace India, in a report titled ‘Airpocalypse’ with information obtained through online reports and Right to Information applications from State Pollution Control Boards across India, shows that none of the Indian cities comply with standards prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and very few cities in southern India comply to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) standards. The report that assesses air quality in 168 cities across 24 states and union territories, pinpoints fossil fuels as one of the main culprits for the deteriorating air quality. The sources of India’s air pollution are mainly from indoor cook stoves, road traffic, including auto-rickshaws that use a toxic mix of kerosene and diesel, industrial plants that burn fossil fuels and open burning of waste.
“The air in India is very hazardous in terms of health impacts as it has been highlighted time and again by national as well as international institutes that 1.2 million deaths resulted from air pollution related diseases in India in 2015. In a report by Greenpeace earlier this year which complied data from Pollution Control Boards 154 cities out of 168 had air quality (PM 10) levels beyond permissible limits by CPCB (annual average 60 µg/m3) which in itself are higher that the WHO prescribed limits of 20 µg/m3,” Sunil Dahiya, campaigner, Greenpeace India, told BE.
According to reports, one of every four children in the Indian capital suffers from a serious lung disorder. Air pollution induced diseases has caused some 1.1 million premature deaths in 2015 and the country records one of the highest air pollution health burdens in the world, according to State of Global Air 2017 report. The report claims that due to long term exposure of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) there were 4.2 million premature deaths in the world in 2015 where both India and China together were responsible for over half of the total global deaths. Early deaths related to PM2.5 in China have increased by 17.22% since 1990, whereas it has increased by 48% in India. Ozone-related early deaths in India are, in fact, 33% higher than those recorded for China.
While elaborating on the hazardous effects of air pollution on our environment, Dahiya added, “The PM levels were very hazardous and not only those, peak pollution levels result into increasing number of short term respiratory impacts but constant exposure to even smaller PM levels result into chronic impacts. Few studies to mention may be:
Women showed a relative risk for fatal CHD of 1.42, 1.38, and 1.22 with each increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) of airborne PM2.5, PM10–2.5, and PM10, respectively, in the air pollution they encountered during the four years preceding death. Postmenopausal women showed higher relative risks of 1.49, 1.61, and 1.30 for each 10 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5, PM10–2.5, and PM10, respectively. The meta-analyses showed a statistically significant association between risk for lung cancer and PM10 (hazard ratio [HR] 1·22 [95% CI 1·03–1·45] per 10 μg/m³). For PM2·5 the HR was 1·18 (0·96–1·46) per 5 μg/m³. The same increments of PM10 and PM2.5 were associated with HRs for denocarcinomas of the lung of 1·51 (1·10–2·08) and 1·55 (1·05–2·29), respectively”.
Other constituents of air pollution such as Sulfur Dioxide, Ozone, and Nitrogen Oxides are associated with a range of short-term and long-term health effects ranging from reduced lung capacity, shortness of breath to heart diseases and even cancer. Experts believe that children are the most affected due to air pollution as their respiratory defences have not reached their full capacity. On the other hand, elderly people are also affected due to their failing immunity.
10 out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India. The worst affected Indian cities are Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna, and Raipur according to a recent WHO report regarding urban air quality database. Delhi ranked 11th among 3,000 cities in 103 countries in terms of PM2.5 (fine, particulate pollution) and 25th in terms of PM10 (coarse pollution particles) levels. Delhi also remains the most polluted among mega cities followed by Cairo and Dhaka.
In a move to improve the air quality in India, the Supreme Court banned BS- III vehicles. The shift from BS-III to BS-IV will reduce air pollution considerably as the BS-IV engines emit 80% less pollutants than BS-III. India’s federal Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has come up with several proposals that include switching to clean energy sources for cook stoves, public transport and industry, as well as measures to reduce road traffic by raising fuel taxes and parking fees, levying congestion charges, and creating vehicle-free zones and cycle paths. But it remains to be seen how effectively the government can implement those schemes. “We have good laws with ineffective implementation. An effective regulatory mechanism is essential. If that is not available, the air-quality will not improve,” said Prof. Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, Distinguished Fellow, Observers Research Foundation (ORF), Kolkata.
What Trump thinks and what Americans think?
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly 60% of Americans oppose Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, with a majority saying the move will damage the United States’ global leadership. New York City former mayor Michael Bloomberg said that he will personally raise the $15 million in funding that the United Nations will lose after Trump’s decision to pull out of the accord. Bloomberg said, “Americans will honour and fulfill the Paris agreement by leading from the bottom up and there isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us.” Economic advisors to the President Bob Iger, CEO and Chairman of the Walt Disney Company and Elon Musk, Chief Executive, Tesla, resigned from their positions after Trump’s decision. Leading companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Goldman Sachs too have come up and spoken against the decision.