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Cutting black carbon emissions will improve health, slow down climate change
Narendra Ch | 12 Mar 2015

India needs to cut down its black carbon emissions for a "co-benefit" agenda, said speakers at the Anil Agarwal Dialogue 2015, organised by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). The co-benefit agenda comprises making a positive impact on global warming on one hand, and improving the health of the people on the other.

Issues in the Dialogue

The Anil Agarwal Dialogue this year is focusing on three primary issues - diesel, brick kilns and cookstoves - all three are major sources of black carbon and are contributors to global warming; they also have an adverse impact on the health of people.

The participants in the Dialogue included well-known national and international experts such as A. Jayaraman from the National Atmospheric Research Laboratory, Department of Space, Government of India; Carlos Dora from the World Health Organisation, Ellen Baum from Climate and Health Research Network, Prof. Kirk Smith from University of California; Marianne Tronstad Lu from Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Michael Brauer from University of British Colombia, vehicle technology expert Michael Walsh. Key panelists from CSE included Sunita Narain, Deputy Director General Chandra Bhushan and Executive Director-Research and Advocacy Anumita Roychwdhury.

Short-lived Climate Pollutants


Discussing the interface between black carbon and climate change, Narain said that while "heat-trapping carbon dioxide" was responsible for around two-thirds of the global warming, black carbon and short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) contributed to the rest. Narain said, "CO2lives in the atmosphere for 100 to 500 years, while SLCPs have much shorter life span - a few hours to 20 years. But the short-lived pollutants cause significant warming for the period they are in the atmosphere."

In other words, cutting down black carbon and SLCPs would have benefits in the short term both on the health of people and climate change, she said.

Experts pointed out that while vehicular pollution - primarily diesel-run vehicles - were responsible for black carbon emission in cities like Delhi, while in rural areas, black carbon is clearly indicted for local air pollution as it adds to the health burden of poor women who have no option but to cook food, using biomass on inefficient stoves.

Disease burden

Presenting a map of India with average annual particulate matter, Prof. Brauer said that high levels of particulate matter were present in both urban as well as rural India. Brauer said that the disability adjusted life years (DALY) data showed that in India a large proportion of many serious diseases were attributable to air pollution (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD 46%, Ischemic Heart Disease 40% and Stroke 45%). "These are very large proportions, indicating that air pollution is widespread, even if caused by different pollutants in urban and rural settings but with the same impact on health," he said.

Three failures

Underlining three failures of the global community, Narain said these were: the world started cutting CO2 emissions in 1990s but was still struggling. "It is a case of too late too little," she said. Using exhaustive data, Narain said the second failure was that that Delhi's air pollution had again risen to very high levels after declining due to the "first-generation reforms" in the 1990s which included putting CNG-run buses on road and using cleaner sulphur-free diesel. The third, she said, was the failure to provide clean energy access to people.

Pointing out that a typical 'chulha' releases smoke equal to 400 cigarettes, Prof. Kirk Smith said that among the factors responsible for disease burden in India, dietary risks were the first while indoor pollution was second, and almost equal to the risk disease burden associated with smoking. Additionally, household cookstoves also contributed 26 per cent to outdoor air pollution.

Solutions

The actions as part of the solution, said Narain, lay in cutting black carbon emission. She also said that this action must not take away from the agenda to cut CO2 emissions. "It cannot become a proxy for action on climate change so that it shifts the blame and burden to developing countries. The world must commit itself to drastic, urgent and equitable CO2 reduction targets," said Narain.

Secondly, action must differentiate between luxury and survival emissions and action on black carbon – which is not part of the Kyoto-six package of greenhouse gases – must be accounted for differently so that countries that take action to leapfrog to cleaner fuel and cleaner technology can claim advantage but not be worried that it takes away from climate change agreements key target – reduction of CO2emissions.

"There are two options – either work with the poor or turn against them," said Sunita Narain, director general, CSE.