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Fossil fuel air pollution costs India 5.4% of GDP, lead to 9.81 lakh preterm births

By Our Representative
Pointing towards the economic cost of air pollution, a recent report by top international environmental NGO Greenpeace has said that China, the United States and India “bear the highest costs from fossil fuel air pollution worldwide, at an estimated US$900 billion, US$600 billion and US$150 billion (Rs 10.7 lakh crore) per year, respectively.”
Titled “Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels”, the report states, of premature deaths attributed to air pollution globally, almost one-third were attributable to exposure (while outdoors) to air pollution from residential and commercial energy, which is the principal source of air pollution-related premature deaths in India and China.
According to the report, approximately 2 million (1,032,000–2,093,000) preterm births worldwide are attributed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exposure as a result of fossil fuel use. Of these, an estimated 350,000 (184,000–367,000) are in China; 14,000 (6,700–14,500) are in South Africa; 981,000 (517,000–1,031,000) are in India; and 11,000 (6,000–12,000) are in Thailand.
PM2.5 concentrations, the most harmful to human health, are defined as ambient airborne particles which measure up to 2.5 microns in size. Their microscopic size allow particles to enter the blood stream via the respiratory system and travel throughout the body, causing far-reaching health effects, including asthma, lung cancer and heart disease, say experts.
Noting that the cost of fossil fuel air pollution equates to a large percentage of many nations’ GDP, the report says, the projected cost of fossil fuel air pollution as a percentage of GDP is greatest in China, where it equates to 6.6%, followed by Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia, Belarus, Romania and Bangladesh. where it is “greater than 5%”.
Estimating the cost of fossil fuel air pollution in India at 5.4% of GDP, the report says, “By comparison, it is 3.4% (2.2-5.1%) and 2.5% (1.8-3.7%) in South Korea and Japan respectively”, the report says.
“Another source of economic costs is that approximately 350,000 new cases of child asthma each year are linked to NO2, a by-product of fossil fuel combustion”, the report states, adding, “As a result, around 1,285,000 more children in India live with asthma linked to fossil fuel pollution.”
Further pointing out that “exposure to pollution from fossil fuels also leads to around 49 crore days of work absence due to illness”, Minwoo Son, Clean Air Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia says, “This is a problem that we know how to solve, by transitioning to renewable energy sources, phasing out diesel and petrol cars, and building public transport. We need to take into account the real cost of fossil fuels, not just for our rapidly heating planet, but also for our health.”
Moving energy generation from fossil fuels to renewables would help to prevent premature deaths and vast savings in health costs
“The country spends around 1.28% of GDP on health while air pollution from burning fossil fuels costs an estimated 5.4% of India’s GDP. This year the central government allocated only Rs 69,000 crore for the health sector in the union budget. This makes it clear that as a country we must fix our priority and stop burning fossil fuels which are harming our health and economy both,” adds Avinash Chanchal, Senior Campaigner at Greenpeace India.
Regretting that coal fired power plants in India have repeatedly missed the emission deadline set by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Chanchal demands “strict action” against non-compliance of thermal power plants, insisting, “The government must ensure the construction of new coal-fired power plants is halted and existing plants must be shut down in phases.”
“Moving our energy generation sector from fossil fuels to renewables would help to prevent premature deaths and vast savings in health costs. A just energy transition to renewable energy is feasible, and we can’t afford to wait any longer. Government and fossil fuel companies need to take action now,” he believes.

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