India loses billions to air pollution: UN

India had the highest share of welfare costs (or a loss of income from labour), of about $220 billion (about ₹1.4 trillion), in South and South-East Asia — of a combined total of $380 billion from mortality due to air pollution, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The global mortality costs from outdoor air pollution are projected to rise to about $25 trillion by 2060 in the absence of more stringent measures. At regional and national scale, China’s welfare costs from mortality were the highest at nearly $1 trillion followed by the Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development (OECD) countries with a combined total of $730 billion, the report added quoting a 2016 projection by the OECD.

Although certain forms of pollution have been reduced as “technologies and management strategies have advanced,” approximately 19 million premature deaths are estimated to occur annually as a result of the way societies use natural resources and impact the environment to support production and consumption, it notes.

 “If consumption and production patterns continue as they are, the linear economic model of ‘take-make-dispose’ will seriously burden an already-polluted planet, affecting current and future generations,” the report’s foreword concludes.

To curb pollution in various forms, the UNEP called for strong high-level political commitment and engagement of the local government, civil society and other stakeholders. “Pollution is a universal challenge [but] the good news is that we already know what we need to do to prevent and reduce it,” UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim said in a statement, stressing that “now the responsibility is on governments, businesses, cities and local authorities, civil society and individuals around the world to commit to act to beat pollution in all its forms.”

To achieve high level political commitment in key economic sectors, there is a need to go beyond the environmental ministries and include other relevant ministries such as finance, agriculture, industry, urban, transport, energy and health.

There is also a need to engage the local government, civil society organisations, business leaders, industries, trade unions and citizens at large. Reporting on the progress that comes from acting on pollution – whether through voluntary measures or formal laws – is a crucial step in this transition.

The report, ‘Towards a pollution-free planet’, was launched during the first Conference of Parties for the Minamata Convention, which addresses mercury issues, and ahead of the annual U.N. Environment Assembly, to be held in early December.

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