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Air pollution caused 500,000 deaths in 2016; 97k died due to coal burning

It said coal phase-out is essential, not only as a key measure to mitigate climate change, but also to reduce morbidity and mortality from air pollution.

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

coal, coal import, coal production

More than five lakh people died prematurely in India in 2016 due to dangerous levels of outdoor air pollution and over 97,000 of the them died after being exposed to pollutants from coal burning, a new report revealed on Thursday.

The Lancet Countdown 2019 on health and climate change also cautioned that the impact of will worsen if the country does not shift from coal-based energy.

It emphasised on rapidly decreasing coal use to zero, saying it was crucial to meeting the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

"Total energy supply from coal increased by 11 per cent in India from 2016 to 2018 and out of over 5.29 lakh premature deaths in 2016 due to dangerous levels of outdoor fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5), over 97,400 deaths were from coal.

"The energy landscape will have to change drastically, and nothing short of a 7.4 per cent year-on-year cut in fossil carbon dioxide emissions from 2019 to 2050 will limit global warming to the more ambitious goal of 1.5 degree Celsius," the report, authored by 35 institutions worldwide, said.

It said coal phase-out is essential, not only as a key measure to mitigate climate change, but also to reduce morbidity and mortality from air pollution.

"Coal continues to be the second largest contributor to global primary energy supply (after oil) and the largest source of electricity generation (at 38 per cent, compared with gas, the next highest at 23 per cent)," the report said, adding that most of the growth in total primary energy supply (TPES) of coal has been in Asia, notably China, India, and Southeast Asia.

Overall, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels have risen by 2.6 per cent from 2016 to 2018, the report said.

Another global study from Switzerland, held earlier this year, revealed that China and the US may be the largest producers of coal power, but power plants in India take the highest toll in the world when it comes to health as coal-fired power plants produce more than just carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming.

Coal burning also releases particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury -- thus damaging the health of many people around the world.

According to Lancet, "Concerningly, the previous downward trend in coal supply has reversed, with a 1.7 per cent increase recorded in total primary energy supply from 2016 to 2018."

The report also talks about heatwaves limiting the labour capacity of various countries.

"Temperature rise and heatwaves are increasingly limiting the labour capacity of various populations. In 2018, 133.6 billion potential work hours were lost globally, 45 billion more than the 2000 baseline, and southern areas of the USA lost 15-20 per cent of potential daylight work hours during the hottest month of 2018," the report said.

The 2019 Lancet report presents an annual update of 41 indicators across five key domains: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerability; adaptation, planning, and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement.

The report represents the findings and consensus of 35 leading academic institutions and UN agencies from every continent.

First Published: Thu, November 14 2019. 18:45 IST
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