Stronger poli­cies needed to fight air pol­lu­tion

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

While global lead­ers in­ces­santly pon­tif­i­cate about emis­sion-re­duc­tion tar­gets, pol­lu­tion-re­lated res­pi­ra­tory com­pli­ca­tions con­tinue to kill mil­lions of peo­ple, many eco­nom­i­cally vul­ner­a­ble and po­lit­i­cally un­der­rep­re­sented. The data are clear about the ur­gency for in­ter­ven­tion, and the con­tent of good pol­icy is no mys­tery. The great­est hur­dle is the po­lit­i­cal in­dif­fer­ence im­pli­cated in re­peated pol­icy fail­ures.

While ter­ror­ism, po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence and pan­demics are for­mi­da­ble threats to peo­ple’s liveli­hoods, air pol­lu­tion con­tin­ues to have an un­par­al­leled im­pact on hu­man sur­vival. An es­ti­mated 6.5 mil­lion deaths world­wide are at­trib­ut­able to air pol­lu­tion each year, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency.

TheWorldHealth Or­ga­ni­za­tion has is­sued guide­lines for air qual­ity based on the con­cen­tra­tion and size of par­tic­u­late mat­ter; the smaller the par­tic­u­lates, the deeper and more harm­ful their pen­e­tra­tion into hu­man lungs can be. For par­tic­u­lates with a di­am­e­ter of 10 mi­crons or less (PM10), the crit­i­cal thresh­old is 20 mi­cro­grams per cu­bic me­ter as an an­nual mean, and 50 mi­cro­grams as a daily mean. WHOsays a re­duc­tion in PM10 from 70 mi­cro­grams per cu­bic me­ter (a com­mon level in de­vel­op­ing cities) to 20 mi­cro­grams could re­duce pol­lu­tion-re­lated deaths by 15 per­cent.

The sources of house­hold air pol­lu­tion, which ac­counts for a ma­jor­ity of pol­lu­tion-re­lated deaths in In­dia, are burn­ing of coal, wood, dung and crop residue; these are vi­tal sources of power and heat­ing in poor and de­vel­op­ing re­gions. Sources of am­bi­ent air pol­lu­tion, which ac­counts for a small ma­jor­ity of air pol­lu­tion-re­lated deaths in China, are, among oth­ers, power plants and au­to­mo­biles.

In find­ings pre­sented at the 2016 an­nual meet­ing of the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Sci­ence, 55 per­cent of the 5.5 mil­lion air pol­lu­tion-re­lated deaths in 2013 oc­curred in China (1.6 mil­lion) and In­dia (1.4 mil­lion).

Re­cent WHO sta­tis­tics show the pol­lu­tion-level gap be­tween de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries is grow­ing. In the 22 largest cities of de­vel­oped East Asia (in­clud­ing Ja­pan and the Re­pub­lic of Korea), the an­nual mean for PM10, an av­er­age of 37 mi­cro­grams, ex­ceeds WHO stan­dards by only a mod­est mar­gin. In con­trast, the av­er­age for China’s 23 largest cities (113) and 122 In­dian cities (107) far ex­ceeds WHO stan­dards.

Glob­ally, more than 80 per­cent of the cities where air pol­lu­tion is mon­i­tored fail to meet WHO stan­dards. On a per-capita ba­sis, coun­tries with the dead­li­est air pol­lu­tion (yearly deaths per 100,000 peo­ple) in­clude Ukraine (first of 184 coun­tries), Rus­sia (fourth) and China (10th ) — In­dia is the 27th dead­li­est.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment study, more than 700,000 peo­ple in Africa die from air pol­lu­tion each year. Even paragons of en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy of­ten fail to achieve per­for­mance tar­gets; for ex­am­ple, mea­sure­ments taken dur­ing sum­mer 2016 found that PM2.5 in San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia, ex­ceeded that in Shang­hai on 32 out of 61 days.

There are a va­ri­ety of pol­i­cyin­duced prac­tices to ad­dress air pol­lu­tion: clean tech­nolo­gies and in­dus­trial pro­cesses, cleaner power gen­er­a­tion, “smart” ur­ban­iza­tion with em­pha­sis on pub­lic trans­port, en­ergy-ef­fi­cient build­ings and op­ti­mized waste man­age­ment.

Still, cur­rent pol­icy tar­gets may be in­ad­e­quate. One study es­ti­mates China’s faithful ad­her­ence to its own cur­rent air qual­ity poli­cies and com­mit­ments may not re­duce air pol­lu­tion-re­lated deaths by 2040, be­cause reg­u­la­tory en­force­ment at the lo­cal level con­tin­ues to be lax.

Given that China and In­dia still have to pur­sue eco­nomic growth, and given the weak en­force­ment mech­a­nisms in global cli­mate ac­cords, air pol­lu­tion will be a lin­ger­ing and men­ac­ing threat with­out tar­geted ac­tion. Now it is the time for do­mes­tic con­stituents, en­vi­ron­men­tal watch­dogs, and pol­icy ex­perts to ad­vo­cate more ag­gres­sively for good-faith pol­icy in­ter­ven­tion. There can be nei­ther eco­nomic growth nor po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity with­out pub­lic health. Lead­ers in the world’s rapidly de­vel­op­ing coun­tries may learn this in a hard way. Asit K. Biswas is a dis­tin­guished vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore, and Kris Hart­ley is a lec­turer at the Depart­ment of City and Re­gional Plan­ning, Cor­nell Univer­sity.

YIN ZHENGYI / FOR CHINA DAILY

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