Asia’s latest eclectic response to carbon emissions

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Asia is at a crossroads between economic development and environmental protection on many fronts. Today we would like to highlight the two extreme positions that coexist in Asia, from a new South Korean president that has ensured the closure of coal fired plants to a plan to open 10 new such plants in Myanmar, already one of the most polluted countries in the world!

The Asian continent accounts for approximately 41% of carbon emissions, even if a per capita basis, carbon emissions are still low due to its large population size. What is evident from this is the potential for the current percentage of carbon emissions to increase dramatically with the expected economic development in the Region.

While some actions are being taken to clean the air…

Only in the last month we’ve seen news showing the disparity in carbon policies in the region. On one hand, China is rolling out the largest investment in solar and wind power in order to reduce coal powered electricity and has vowed to reduce the steel production capacity (a highly polluting industry) by 50 million tonnes. Furthermore, in March, China announced the closure of 103 coal power plants. This will have a major impact on improving regional air quality.

In this same line, Moon Jae-in – South Korea’s new president, started on the front foot fighting air pollution and ordered the shutdown of ten old coal power plants to address public protests. They will be temporarily shut down and by the end of his term, they are expected to be permanently shut down.


…other actions are being taken to increase power generation

On the other side, there are countries like Myanmar which have made public their plans to open 10 new coal-fired plants. The air quality in Myanmar is among the dirtiest in the world with six cities with higher counts of PM10 than Beijing! It is true that the country is currently only providing energy to less than 30% of the population and increased power is required to attract foreign investment, but it is also true that there are plans to build a hydroelectric dam to harness Irrawady’s river power, power which will be sold almost entirely to China (90%).

Another example of this situation is Bangladesh, which is constructing a power plant on the edge of the world’s largest mangrove: the Sundarbans. This project threatens the UNESCO-protected mangroves that are a barrier against storms and cyclones and has the potential to severely affect human health from air pollution, water pollution and storm emergencies. Campaigners have protested heavily to halt the construction.

 

Regional solutions?

Participants in the recent Belt&Road initiative have called on the need to implement in full the Paris Agreement. However, Asia faces enormous challenges and opportunities that would most benefit from increased regional co-operation in this initiative.

Increased knowledge about air pollution and its health consequences have sparked actions in the region to reduce the number of existing coal-fired plants. The more we talk about this, the more we can put pressure on governments to improve air quality in Asia.

 

Sources:
http://nation.com.pk/snippets/05-May-2017/myanmar-coal-plant-growth-could-kill-280-000
http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/7/074011/meta
http://citizen.co.za/news/news-world/1504649/bangladesh-coal-plant-could-cause-6000-early-deaths/

Carbon Governance in Asia: Bridging Scales and Disciplines

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/05/china-air-pollution-solutions-environment-tangshan/
https://www.ft.com/content/c8a5da0a-3935-11e7-821a-6027b8a20f23
http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/press/releases/climate-energy/2017/Belt-and-Road-participants-call-for-full-implementation-of-Paris-Agreement/

 

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…And now breast cancer?

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The last six weeks have seen an intense debate over the possible link between breast cancer and air pollution. FIGO- the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics highlighted the discovery of a link between air pollution and breast cancer following an article published in the Breast Cancer Journal on the results of research conducted by the University of Florida. This was reported by mainstream media as an alarming call to women living in areas with high air pollution.

Do not panic!

But there is no need to panic, it’s very important to be cautious with scientific results. In fact, many organizations like Cancer Research-UK, BreastCancer and others jumped to clarify that finding a link does not mean that air pollution causes breast cancer. Two things can be highly correlated without implying causation.

We know and we’ve talked about how pervasive air pollution is in our bodies, affecting our lungs, circulation, diabetes, skin and many more. The link between air pollution and lung cancer is very well researched, many research teams have worked on this subject for decades and have found how it happens and why. All the other links of air pollution to diseases are still in the very beginning of compiling research results and while it is one thing to link air pollution with skin problems, it is another step entirely to link it with a life-threatening disease like breast cancer.

Be cautious and understand the risks

We should not panic, but we should know the extent of current research on this matter. The latest research was conducted by the University of Florida, US, and looked at the link between breast density and air pollution. They found that women living in areas with high pollution had denser breast tissue. Women with dense breast tissue are up to six times more likely to develop some form of breast cancer.

In 2010, another study by the Research Institute of the MUHC, McGill University and Université de Montreal also showed a link. This study mapped air pollution against breast cancer patients and found that women living near areas with higher levels of pollution were twice as likely to develop breast cancer than the rest. However, Dr Goldberg, a researcher at The RI MUHC said:

“For example, we don’t know how much the women in the study were exposed to pollution while at home or at work, because that would depend on their daily patterns of activity, how much time they spend outdoors and so on”

In the case of this study, what is interesting is that the motivation to study the link between air pollution and breast cancer was to try to understand why cancer rates were going up in general / in these particular high pollution areas. The results showed that it could be air pollution but it may well be some other factor that the study could not control. In fact, the researchers called for more research on this subject and more research on the biological explanation behind this possible link.

Before more scientific evidence is gathered, we should make it a habit to know the quality of the air we breathe and take actions to improve the quality of the air we are exposed to, both indoors and outdoors!

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