Cost of Air Pollution
You would have often heard that our cities are not breathable due to bad air quality. Some have started using masks to cope with health effects of air pollution. However, it is not human health that gets affected by air pollution, but crops’ growth and animals too get affected by it. So much so that honeybees and other pollinators also lose their pollination capabilities due to the bad air quality. In other words, life on land and our ecosystem is getting affected by air pollution.
Air pollution, indoor and outdoor, has disrupted global food chains. Air pollutants mainly are fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 & PM 10), black carbon, nitrogen oxides emissions, ammonium emissions, sulphur dioxide, ground level ozone, heavy metals including lead, mercury and benzene.
Each pollutant has human health impacts, ecological effects and impacts ecosystem services. Fine particulate matter causes breathing disorders, cardio vascular disease, loss of visibility and cancer. It impairs photosynthesis and changes productivity, which in turns causes food insecurity. Black carbon, nitrogen oxides emissions and ground level ozone also cause reduction in plant biomass and net primary productivity. These pollutants also cause lung irritation, premature deaths, impaired immune system, and harmful impacts on nervous, digestive, and reproductive systems. These impacts altogether involve significant economic costs which is neglected and unacknowledged in public policies.
According to World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, global cost of indoor and outdoor air pollution accounted almost dollars 5.1 trillion, which is estimated to be 7.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Cost of indoor air pollutants accounted for dollars 2 trillion whereas that of outdoor stood at dollars 3 trillion. As per the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, the costs of low productivity from pollution related diseases estimated to be between 0.61 percent and 0.82 percent in low to middle income countries (Pakistan included). If business as usual continues then economic costs due to outdoor air pollution will likely to increase about dollars 25 trillion by 2050 as per estimates of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
According to study of the year 2011, ozone will likely to reduce crop productivity up to 26 percent by the year 2030. These include maize, wheat and soybean. These three crops will cost world’s economy between dollars 17 billion to dollars 35 billion. This data shows that the physical and economic cost of pollution is eye opening and it needs immediate attention.
Pakistan is ranked 176th out of 180 countries on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) for bad air quality. Lahore and Karachi are considered worse than the air of Beijing for particulate matter (PM 2.5) pollution. World Bank’s report states that “Pakistan’s economy is very air polluted intensive”. Dollars US 18.9 of GDP per capita is wasted on one unit of particulate matter 2.5. Leading cause of air pollution include vehicular emissions followed by industrial emissions, burning of waste and stubble burning.
Urbanization has increased the use of vehicles in the country. Approximately 35% of population is living in urban settings. Number of vehicles have increased approximately from 2 million to 10.6 million in past 20 years. According to the Smog commission Punjab report, an average growth rate in road transportation has increased up to 8.5 percent in last 20 years. This not only includes cars but also motorbike, rickshaw, and scooters with the use of bad quality engine as well as fuel which emits harmful gases into air.
Labour class of urban areas is affected the most due to low air quality leading to lower on the job productivity. The air pollution-health-economic (PHE) has been greatly ignored in Pakistan. According to a report by the World Bank outdoor air pollution caused direct damage of worth 1.1 percent of GDP by the year 2005.
Direct damage includes health issues such as cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. Indirect cost includes visibility issues, malnutrition, education, delayed flights, road accidents and work. If these costs are taken into account then this increases the burden on our economy.
Ground level zone affects major agricultural crops badly. According to a research the economic cost due to ground level zone is worth US$550 million. This equally affects urban and peri urban croplands. Estimated 80% pre-mature deaths accounting for more than 9,000 deaths are caused by particulate matter 2.5 in Karahi only.
When it comes to tackling air pollution there are many model countries which Pakistan can follow. The most relevant is China which use to be a victim of air pollutants and caused damage to their people and environment. China set its Quantiﬁed Emission Limitation and Reduction Objectives in past fifteen years. In 2006, it declared that by 2010 it would reduce energy intensity by 20 percent and this target was achieved successfully. In 2013, it set five years air pollution action plan in which targets were set against pollutants to reduce. For particulate matter (size 10) target was 10 percent whereas China reduced it to 22 percent i.e. more than 12 percent from set target. Particulate matter (size 2.5) reduced from 90 micrograms per cubic meter to 58 micrograms per cubic meter. China has also set to reduce carbon emissions 40 to 45 percent by the year 2020.
Due to its efforts for tackling air pollution, China is hosting this year’s World Environment Day which has a theme on air pollution. China’s most effective law is Environmental Protection Tax law 2016 which enabled China to impose fine on day to day basis.
Pakistan is committed to reducing its green house gas emissions by 2030. From transportation sector Pakistan intend to reduce 8 percent carbon emissions by 2030 through behavioral change, capacity building, technology and by implementation of National Environmental Quality Standards. However, one need to be mindful that technology shouldn’t be limited to monitor only glaciers melting or meteorological data. For reduction of carbon emissions clean technology transfer is extremely important.
Vehicles should be provided with 4-stroke engines for combustion of fossil fuels. Ministry of climate change is planning new purchase of 30 percent new electric cars which is very encouraging for air quality. However, it should also upgrade existing automobiles.
Regular industrial emissions should be monitored with latest technology. Provincial environmental departments as well as federal staff should be provided training for usage of air quality monitors. Above all, air quality monitoring stations are not enough in the country to provide sufficient data. Cross boundary collaboration should also be considered as air pollution is a cross boundary issue. Implementation of existing laws and policies is pre requisite towards clean air and environment.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.