NEW DELHI: India could gain major health benefits worth USD 3.28–8.4 trillion if it manages to contain global warming and limit the temperature rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, a WHO report said.
China could be next to India with gains ranging between USD 0.27-2.31 trillion.
According to the report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) released at the UN Climate Conference in Poland, meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement could save about "a million lives a year worldwide by 2050" through reductions in air pollution alone.
The latest estimates from leading experts also indicate that the value of health gains from climate action would be approximately "double the cost of mitigation policies at global level", and the benefit-to-cost ratio is even higher in countries such as China and India.
"The largest gains would be expected in China and India, which would generate even larger net benefits by pursuing the 1.5 degrees Celsius target rather than the 2 degrees Celsius target (USD 0.27–2.31 trillion in China and USD 3.28–8.4 trillion in India)," the COP24 Special Report on Health and Climate Change stated.
The most recent evidence indicates that the gains for health to be derived from scenarios that meet the Paris Agreement goal for reduced global warming would more than cover the financial cost of mitigation at global level and would cover it several times over in countries such as China and India.
Exposure to air pollution causes seven million deaths worldwide annually and costs an estimated USD 5.11 trillion in welfare losses globally.
Over two million deaths occur prematurely in India due to pollution, accounting for 25 per cent of the global deaths due to air pollution.
In the 15 countries that emit the most amount of greenhouse gases, the health impact of air pollution is estimated to cost more than four per cent of their GDP. Actions to meet the Paris Agreement goals would cost around one per cent of global GDP.
"The Paris Agreement is potentially the strongest health agreement of this century," Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, said.
"The evidence is clear that climate change is already having a serious impact on human lives and health. The same human activities that are destabilising the earth's climate also contribute directly to poor health. The main driver of climate change is fossil fuel combustion which is also a major contributor to air pollution," Ghebreyesus said.
"The true cost of climate change is felt in our hospitals and in our lungs. The health burden of polluting energy sources is now so high, that moving to cleaner and more sustainable choices for energy supply, transport and food systems effectively pays for itself," said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.
When health is taken into account, climate change mitigation is an opportunity, not a cost, Neira said.
Switching to low-carbon energy sources will not only improve air quality but provide additional opportunities for immediate health benefits.
For example, introducing active transport options such as cycling will help increase physical activity that can help prevent diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart diseases.
The report provides recommendations for governments on how to maximize the health benefits of tackling climate change and avoid the worst health impacts of this global challenge.