The global risks from toxic pollution and climate change are highly correlated and should be jointly analysed in order to inform and better target efforts to reduce or mitigate both risks

A news item on the Climate Adaptation Platform discusses a new study, demonstrating a strong correlation between toxic pollution risk and climate risk, along with varying capacities of countries to manage that risk.  They explain that high-risk low-income countries that must urgently address governance challenges in order to have a chance at successfully addressing pollution risk.

 

Climate Change and Pollution is Affecting Low-income Countries

A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE shows a strong correlation between toxic and non-toxic pollution and that each one can worsen the other.

Humans have produced significant amounts of both types of pollution. While toxic pollution directly damages human health, non-toxic ones like GHG emissions are responsible for climate change.

The study identifies which countries are most at risk of climate change and toxic pollution and those in the best position to protect themselves against both types of pollution given the support from the international community.

Climate change results from the GHG emissions released by humans into the atmosphere, and it also poses significant risks to human health. Some of its effects on the environment and human health are irreversible.

Scientist fears that tipping points might soon be crossed causing self-reinforcing feedback in global heating. When this happens, it will limit humanity’s ability to respond to the climate crises collectively.

According to the study, both toxic and non-toxic pollutions are not separate issues but are strongly linked and could reinforce each other. Scientists believe that understanding the relationship between these two types of pollution can help determine the appropriate response to mitigate both its effects on human health, especially in more exposed and vulnerable countries.

The study examined the link between exposure to toxic pollutions and climate change vulnerability in 176 countries using three sources:

  • The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative Country Index, which measures a country’s vulnerability to climate change;
  • Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, which measures the country’s environmental health; and the
  • Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, which estimates deaths due to toxic pollution.

The findings show that the world’s poorest countries show a strong correlation between their exposure to toxic pollution and climate change vulnerability.

Prof Philip J. Landrigan, director of the Global Observatory on Pollution and Health at the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society, Boston College and who is not part of the study, says GHG emissions from fossil fuel is the major contributor to climate change but also contributes to 85% of airborne particulate pollution.

The study identified ten countries (Singapore, Rwanda, China, India, Solomon Island, Bhutan, Botswana, Georgia, South Korea, and Thailand) who have the best chance of protecting themselves against toxic pollution and climate change with support from the international community.

Unfortunately, there are countries who, despite international support, would not be able to project themselves. An example is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Pollution from this country comes from the fine particulate matter from the Sahara Desert and transportation in urban areas. The country also has many national and international mining businesses that pollute its waterways, damaging their people’s health.

For the DRC, the study suggests that the international community should focus instead on helping alleviate the country’s structural inequality, poverty, corruption, and the exploitation of lax environmental standards. These issues unaddressed will make it difficult to respond to toxic pollution and climate change directly.

According to Dr Richard Marcantonio, one of the study authors, global inequalities in consumption and pollution production is the heart of the issue. As a general rule, humans should substantially reduce consumption or redistribute because it is the primary driver for toxic and non-toxic emissions.

Historically, rich countries have much higher consumption and emissions and drive emissions in lower-income countries to produce the goods but are less exposed to the risk from pollution and climate change.

The poor countries, the less responsible for the emissions of GHG and pollution, are most exposed to the risk, which reflects the many issues of inequality that we see today.

Because of these inequalities, high-income countries should be responsible for supporting low-income countries to respond to climate change and pollution, the study says.

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