Kolkata: With increasing dependence of Asian countries on coal-driven power, public health experts Tuesday said “addiction” of nations to coal coupled with climate change effects pose a “serious” threat to health equity.
According to Peter Orris, professor and chief of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago, in the US, south Asia will garner a “good deal” of attention in the coal-climate change link.
“Asia is the major producer and consumer of coal globally, even surpassing US. So Asia has really taken over and if we are going to make any headway then there has to be a change in approach in Asia to tackle greenhouse gases and climate change,” Orris said at the 14th World Congress on Public Health here.
He was speaking at the session on ‘Climate Change, Air Quality and Health: Impacts of Energy Choices’.
According to the WHO, approximately seven million premature deaths per year result from exposure to air pollution, making it the world’s largest environmental health risk.
Approximately half of the burden is attributable to outdoor air pollution, which comes from the combustion of fossil fuels and contributes to deaths due to ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and respiratory infections
He said countries like Vietnam, which have had “significant problems” with coal, are going for expansion and that is a problem.
“It kills the miners and then it pollutes the cities with particulates and then on a global level there is the generation of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Globally we have to move away from coal,” he said.
He explained: “The Chinese are still relying on coal they are not phasing it out but their investments in alternative energy sources is very impressive.”
“In India, the government is still emphasising coal because they see it as the only practical way to move ahead with development. I think that’s an error.”
This puts health equity at “risk” since vulnerable populations, who are at times displaced from large scale fossil fuel-based energy projects suffer “disproportionately”, said Adithya Pradyumna, environmental health researcher, Society for Community Health Awareness Research and Action.
“The largest air pollution burden is borne by low and middle-income countries in the Asia-Pacific region. There is a fine line between energy production, health equity and mitigating impacts of climate change,” said Pradyumna.
Calling for reduction in “addiction” to coal, Renzo Guinto from Philippines, said in his country, fishermen face limited fish harvests near sites of coal power plants.
“It is affecting food security too in our country and the irony is, more such plants are expected to come up,” said, Guinto, a ‘Healthy Energy Initiative’ campaigner for Health Care Without Harm (Asia).