China and India can work to­gether to curb air pol­lu­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

The sim­mer­ing groundswell of voices urges emerg­ing economies such as China and India to take the lead in ad­dress­ing global is­sues. But there are deeper im­per­cep­ti­ble chal­lenges at home that de­mand im­me­di­ate and greater at­ten­tion from China and India. Air pol­lu­tion is one such chal­lenge as it has dan­ger­ous im­pli­ca­tions for pub­lic health, es­pe­cially in me­trop­o­lises such as New Delhi and Bei­jing.

Ac­cord­ing to the State of Global Air Re­port 2017, is­sued jointly by the Health Ef­fects In­sti­tute (Bos­ton) and Health Met­rics and Eval­u­a­tion (Seat­tle) on Mon­day, longterm ex­po­sure to PM2.5 (in­hal­able par­tic­u­late mat­ter with a di­am­e­ter of 2.5 mi­crom­e­ters or less) con­trib­uted to 4.2 mil­lion deaths across the world in 2015. And China and India ac­counted for 52 per­cent of the to­tal deaths at­trib­ut­able to PM2.5.

The num­ber of deaths for India had stayed be­low that of China by roughly 100,000 since the early 1990s. But while the num­ber for China has “sta­bi­lized”, it con­tin­ues to in­crease in the case of India.

Al­though it is dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish any di­rect link be­tween air pol­lu­tion and deaths or mea­sure the pre­cise eco­nomic cost of air pol­lu­tion, a World Bank re­port said India lost 8 per­cent of its GDP, or more than $560 bil­lion, in 2013 be­cause of air pol­lu­tion-re­lated deaths, lost work hours and in­creased health­care costs.

Ow­ing to their com­mon in­ter­est in fight­ing air pol­lu­tion, and to re­duce the num­ber of pol­lu­tion­re­lated deaths, China and India should work to­gether, de­spite their dif­fer­ences.

Be­ing a strong pro­moter and de­fender of the “com­mon but dif­fer­en­ti­ated re­spon­si­bil­i­ties” prin­ci­ple at cli­mate change con­fer­ences, China should take the first step to ini­ti­ate talks with India on how to jointly ad­dress air pol­lu­tion, es­pe­cially in ur­ban cen­ters.

China has re­vamped its reg­u­la­tory sys­tems, pulling high­e­mis­sion ve­hi­cles off the road, en­cour­ag­ing pro­duc­tion and use of en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly cars and im­prov­ing the health­care sys­tem to ad­dress pol­lu­tion-re­lated chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­eases (or chronic bron­chi­tis and em­phy­sema) which have seen a steep in­crease in India.

India can also learn from China’s reg­u­la­tions for sales and set­ting off of fire­works dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val to take sim­i­lar mea­sures to di­min­ish In­di­ans’ ob­ses­sion with fire­crack­ers that sent PM2.5 soar­ing in cities like New Delhi dur­ing Di­wali, or fes­ti­val of lights, in Novem­ber.

Closely linked to air pol­lu­tion is the prob­lem of pas­sive smok­ing, which ac­counts for the deaths of about 6 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide ev­ery year. China and India to­gether have more than 500 mil­lion tobacco users. Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, tobacco use on av­er­age re­duces life by about 7.5 years. This is an­other health­care is­sue the two neigh­bors could ad­dress to­gether. In this case, too, the two coun­tries could learn from each other, as China seeks to tighten its anti-smok­ing laws and India struggles to ef­fec­tively im­ple­ment its ex­ist­ing strin­gent laws and pro­mote pub­lic aware­ness about the harm­ful ef­fects of tobacco use. By work­ing on such joint health­care strate­gies, the two neigh­bors could, in the long run, en­hance their mu­tual un­der­stand­ing and trust.

Ow­ing to their com­mon in­ter­est in fight­ing air pol­lu­tion ... China and India should work to­gether, de­spite their dif­fer­ences.

The au­thor is a pro­fes­sor at Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity, New Delhi.

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