A new Lancet report on global climate change and its impact on health, has a poor outlook for India on the counts of pollution related deaths, labour capacity, heat waves, infectious diseases like dengue and food security.
In its conclusion the report says that the world is transitioning into a low-carbon one, and that “no single country or head of state can halt this progress.” At a global level, the report says that climate change is already damaging the health of millions and that there is a looming public health emergency.
Data modelling for the year 2015 shows that in Asia, India has the second highest number of premature deaths attributable to air pollution and PM 2.5 concentration in the air. The Lancet’s data shows that India has had 524,680 deaths whereas China has had 966,794.
According to the report, climate change has also caused disruptions in labour capacity and productivity, where India’s capacity has decreased by 2.85% between 2000 and 2016, compared with 1986 to 2008. The most significant decrease in capacity has been recent, since 2015, when labour capacity decreased by an average of 8.25%.
The report is titled ‘The Lancet Countdown: From 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health.’ It covers five themes where health and climate change overlap. These are, heatwaves, air pollution, labour capacity, food security and infectious diseases.
Twenty four organisations have jointly researched and authored this report, including the World Bank, the World Health Organization, University College London and Tsinghua University
Two recent reports on pollution point to one big crisis for India
The report is the second one this month from The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health. The first study concluded that India and Bangladesh have had the largest increase in numbers of pollution related deaths. It also found that pollution is the largest cause of premature deaths worldwide in 2015, with thrice as many deaths as those from AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria combined.
The report also says that reporting of climate change and its health impacts has been robust in the Indian media. Southeast Asian newspapers have in fact led this increased trend in reporting. The report say:
This generally high volume of coverage in the Indian press can be attributed to the centrality of newspapers as communication channels for elite-level discourse in India and to relatively high levels of climate change coverage throughout Asia.
The new report says that in India, the highest number of deaths attributable to air pollution comes from household pollution. Other high sources are coal and agriculture. The WHO recommends that PM 2.5 concentration does not exceed 10 ug/m3 but average annual concentrations in India are 59 ug/m3, with a maximum measurement of 176 ug/m3 in Gwalior.
Coal combustion contributes the most carbon dioxide, in comparison to other methods of electricity generation and on this count, India is the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide along with China, USA and the European Union. In 2015, India contributed 6.3% carbon dioxide, whereas the entire European Union’s 28 states together, contributed 10%.
The report says that “the reduction in carbon intensity in the USA, UK, and Germany has been offset by an increased carbon intensity of energy supply in India and China.” For example, the share of coal in the Indian energy mix has doubled since 1980, from 22% to 44%. China on the other hand, which has largely driven the global increase in coal-use, has “plateaued and reduced since 2013,” as the health effects of air pollution have been recognised and its economy has slowed.
Infectious diseases, heat waves, labour and nutrition
The report also raises concerns on infectious diseases, especially dengue, which is the fastest spreading mosquito borne viral disease. Dengue’s range is expected to increase as a result of climate change, and it will hit low and middle income countries. There has been a 9.4% increase in vectorial capacity of the dengue carrying aedes aegypti, with annual numbers of dengue cases doubling every decade since 1990.
On heatwaves the report says “India has been disproportionately affected by the additional 125 million exposure events to potentially fatal heatwaves since 2000.”
Labour capacity also takes a hit from heat waves, especially those in physically demanding jobs.
Increased heat will create health risks for workers from exhaustion, heat stroke, kidney disease due of dehydration and pollution related disease. With large parts of the Indian workforce engaged in rural labour, countries like India will be particularly affected, according to the new report, tying in with the global scenario where there has been a 5.3% average fall in labour productivity of agricultural workers since 2000. In 2016, climate change took out 9,20,000 people from the global work force. 418,000 of them have been in India alone.
Food security and undernutrition also emerge as a very real health impact from climate change. For example, for every degree Celsius of temperature rise, it is estimated that wheat yields will drop by 6%, and rice yields will fall by 10%. India’s recent rankings on the Global Hunger Index put India at a dismally low position of 100 from 119 countries.