Negative Growth: Air Pollution denying India and China usual benefits of development and growth

Negative Growth: Air Pollution denying India and China usual benefits of development and growth

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Press release - December 2, 2016
New Delhi | December 2, 2016| As winter sets in and smog envelopes the North Indian belt further, yet another damning report stresses on the urgent need to address the problem of air pollution in India and China.

The report by Greenpeace India [1] has found that air pollution due to continued use of fossil fuels, (coal in particular) in both the countries has caused an additional 1.6 million more deaths than the projected figure based on  GDP growth rate for the year 2015 .

“Air pollution due to continued usage of fossil fuels denies both India and China the fruits of a flourishing economy,” said Lauri Myllyvirta of Greenpeace, “The report puts a big question mark on the quality of economic development that the two countries are offering their people. Usually, air pollution has an inverse relationship with the country’s GDP; we find that as countries become richer they generally develop less polluting industries. But in the case of India and China, the trend has been quite the opposite: despite their economic growth, both countries have particularly poor air quality. It is clear that an economy heavily reliant on coal can only spell doom for its people.”

Explaining the arithmetic behind this alarming figure, the report states: For the year 2015, the per capita GDP of India and China was calculated to be $1,582 and $7,925. As per the global trend, this should have meant fewer deaths due to pollution as compared to countries with a lower per capita GDP. But air pollution death rates in India and China have continued to climb: in 2015, pollution was expected to cause 94 deaths per 100,000 people in India, and 41 deaths per 100,000 people in China. But in reality the numbers are 138 and 115 deaths per 100,000 people in India and China respectively. According to Global Burden of Diseases (GBD) the actual numbers of deaths in India were about 1.8 million and 1.5 million in China. The expected number of deaths based on GDP in India and China were calculated to be 1.2 million and 558 thousand respectively.

This suggests that there are over 1 million more deaths a year in China and nearly 600,000 more deaths a year in India than there would be if the air pollution death rate in both countries was the average of other large middle-income countries with their level of GDP per capita.

India’s performance disappointing

“Air pollution rates have fallen in China and India since 1990, but are still worse than in most similar countries. What’s more disconcerting for India is the fact that the rates have not improved since 2010,” said Sunil Dahiya, campaigner, Greenpeace India. India surpassing China in deaths due to air pollution was brought to fore last month, when Greenpeace India analysed the data collated by Global burden of Diseases (GBD) [2].

“The air pollution death rate has improved very slowly as compared to other similar countries. Between 1990 and 2015 the rate fell by 14 percent, compared with 28 percent among the other countries that, in 1990, had death rates of above 100 per 100,000. Since 2005 there has been very little improvement in India’s air pollution death rate: it has fallen only from 141 to 138 per 100, 000,” added Dahiya. 

Polluting Fossil fuels culprit

The report attributes continues use of fossil fuel to be the main culprit for the deteriorated air quality for both the countries. Backed by scientific reports [3], Greenpeace India too, in an earlier report titled, ‘Out of sight’ [4] had highlighted the crucial role played by thermal power plants in disseminating particulate matter into the atmosphere. 

China, however, adopted strict emission standards for thermal power plants in 2011, and a coordinated action plan in 2013, which led to the reduction in pollution levels, eventually halting the increase in air pollution deaths. “But in India, the situation is not being taken seriously by authorities. Instead, there are talks of easing deadlines for implementing the notified emission standards for coal-fired power plants. Further development of thermal power plants will not only create health risks but also have a crippling effect on the economy,” said Dahiya.

With economic growth comes adoption of better and cleaner energy policies. But unfortunately India and China seem to be following a reverse trend. The government must address the urgent need to address air pollution as a national emergency and acknowledge coal-fired power plants as one of the root causes. The need of the hour is to create a regional action plan [5] covering extremely highly polluted areas from Punjab to West Bengal. It’s high time the government rises to the occasion and stops giving further concessions to polluting fossil fuel industry, that need to be responsible given the health hazards they pose to a massive chunk of the Indian population.                       


For further details-
Sunil Dahiya, Campaigner; 09013673250; 
Madhulika Verma, Communication Specialist; 997113736; 

Notes to the Editor:
[1]Link to Greenpeace report:
[2]GBD analysis:
[3]IIT report on Air pollution:
[4] Out of Sight:
[5] Clean Air Action Plan: