7 September 2021, New Delhi/Dhaka/Islamabad/Kathmandu : Doctors and medical practitioners representing some of the largest associations and networks of public health professionals today called upon South Asian Governments to phase out fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – to avert the twin crisis of air pollution and climate change. They also endorsed the Fossil Fuel Treaty and called for a just and fair transition that puts people’s health first.
The call was made on the occasion of International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, during the launch webinar of the first-ever regional collaboration of health professionals for resolving South Asia’s twin crisis of air pollution and climate crisis, an initiative of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), ), Doctors For Clean Air & Climate Action, Lung Care Foundation, Air Quality Life Index & Fossil Fuel Treaty.
The organisations endorsing the call include Cardiological Society of India, Indian Academy of Paediatrics, Indian Chest Society, Association of Surgeons of India, Medical Students Association of India, Doctors For Clean Air & Climate Action, Bangladesh Lung Association , Nepalese Respiratory Society and Cancer Research & Treatment Foundation, Pakistan. Collectively they represent the interests of more than 100,000 doctors in the region.
“September 7, 2021, marks the beginning of a regional collaboration of the public health and medical experts on air pollution, climate, and health. Recognizing that air pollution is a public health emergency and is affecting the quality of life of the people in the region and that fossil fuels are the root cause of air pollution and climate crisis, the members of the health community from South Asia aim to work nationally and regionally to solve the air pollution crisis and face the climate crisis together”, said Dr. Arvind Kumar, Founder Trustee of Lung Care Foundation
Fossil Fuels – coal, oil, and gas – the major drivers of climate change, are also the biggest contributor to the poor air quality in the region. Air pollution exposure is the second most important risk factor for ill-health in South Asia. Burning fossil fuel causes air pollution and releases toxins that can lead to early death, heart attacks, respiratory disorders, stroke, exacerbation of asthma and impaired productivity. Air pollution causes daily disruptions in people’s lives from allergies, colds, coughs, irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and mental health issues.
“Air pollution and climate change know no boundaries, and there is a need for urgent cross border collaboration in South Asia region. This is a regional challenge, which requires a regional approach to help, support and inspire action. A regional approach will allow countries to spend their money more efficiently, pool their resources on climate change, and share this collective knowledge with governments, NGOs, the private sector, and citizens.” Said Mr. Sanjay Vashist, Director, Climate Action Network, South Asia
South Asia is vulnerable to several climate change issues and impacts tied closely to the region’s geography, economy, and population patterns. Air pollution, like climate change, knows no borders. There is plenty of evidence to show that efforts to control air pollution within a geographic limit often end up failing. Management of air pollution sources, particularly those which affect territories over thousands of kilometers, require high levels of co-ordination and co-operation among several institutions across states and countries.
The other speakers at the webinar on the launch of collaboration included Dr. Kenneth Lee of Air Quality Life Index, Dr. Kazi S. Bennoor, Assistant Professor (Respiratory Medicine), National Institute of Diseases of Chest & Hospital, Bangladesh, Prof. Dr. Abdul Majeed Chaudhry, Member, Board of Governors, Cancer Research & Treatment Foundation, Pakistan, Dr. Ramesh Chokhani , President Nepalese Respiratory Society, Dr. Nawang Norbu, Director, Bhutan Ecological Society, Dr. Rashna Hazarika, Senior Consultant, Pediatrics & Neonatology, Nemcare Superspeciality Hospital & RIGPA Children’s Clinic, Assam.
While last week’s IPCC report was heralded as a “death knell” for the fossil fuel industry, national governments plan to expand fossil fuels at levels that would result in 120 percent more emissions than what is in keeping with the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
The expansion of fossil fuels continues unchecked as there is currently no international mechanism to manage a fair and fast transition away from coal, oil and gas. The Paris Agreement does not even mention the substances once and in the five years since it was signed, the fossil fuel industry has continued to expand significantly.
Momentum around the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative is growing globally. The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative is spurring international cooperation to end new development of fossil fuels, phase out existing production within the agreed climate limit of 1.5°C, and develop plans to support workers, communities and countries dependent on fossil fuels to create secure and healthy livelihoods.
The proposed Treaty draws on lessons from global efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and ban ozone-depleting chemicals, landmines and other threats to humanity. Recently, the Dalai Lama and 100 other Nobel Laureates called on world leaders to end fossil fuel expansion. This was followed by 1,300+ scientists and academics who have explicitly called for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.