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'Around 25% Of Worldwide Deaths Linked To Environmental ill health'

In particular, the report notes, environmental threats are posing an increasingly acute danger to human health - especially in major emerging markets such as China and India.

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While economic growth has naturally lifted millions out of poverty in emerging markets due to trickle-down effect, and generated unparalleled improvements in human welfare, a group of global experts warn that in emerging markets like India, policies aimed at maximizing growth without appropriate environmental controls are now reaching a point of diminishing returns.

The group, convened by Oxford University’s Green Templeton College’s Emerging Markets Symposium (EMS), includes well-known Indian economist, Suman Bery, and Professor Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation.

“Political and business leaders are already challenging the traditional economic consensus that environmental initiatives harm economic growth and business,” explains Bery, until recently Chief Economist, Royal Dutch Shell and a former member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council.

“They increasingly seek to be in the vanguard of change, responding to greater public awareness of the need to reconcile profits with responsible stewardship. The challenge in poor countries is not to enact policies but to provide the financing and technology needed to turn best practice into common practice, and using market instruments to guide behavior where possible”.

The report released by the Emerging Markets Symposium, called “Environmental Health in Emerging Markets”, argues that decision-makers have often been more concerned about the cost of interventions to limit environmental damage, seen to hurt business and growth, than about the price tag associated with not doing what is needed.

In particular, the report notes, environmental threats are posing an increasingly acute danger to human health - especially in major emerging markets such as China and India, but also in the world at large:

· According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 23 per cent of deaths worldwide are due to modifiable environmental factors - most prominently air pollution, which is the single greatest cause of disease and death in poorer countries and emerging markets. A number of studies have now documented how emissions from public and domestic energy systems combine in fine particles that penetrate the lungs, causing heart and lung disease, cancers and an increased risk of dementia.

· Air pollution alone accounts for over seven million deaths worldwide: outdoor air pollution is responsible for more than three million deaths a year and a further four million deaths occur as a result of household air pollution. These figures compare with 1.1 million deaths in 2015 from HIV-related illnesses, and just over 11,000 deaths in the most recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, both of which rightly attracted significant global attention and funding.

· The World Bank estimated air pollution cost the world economy some $225 billion in lost labour income alone in 2013; and health-related economic losses from haze in the city of Beijing amounted to $3.7 billion in just one month.

The world-renowned economist, Jeffrey D Sachs, Professor at Columbia University and Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, warns, “A quarter of all deaths worldwide are currently directly or indirectly attributed to environmental ill health. We cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand. Increasing air and water pollution, the spread of new diseases, and drug-resistant infections are already crippling our health and social systems. Urgent and radical action is needed, including investing significantly in preventing environmental health challenges, changing the way we grow and produce food, and, of course, switching to renewable energy sources.”

The EMS report lays out a number of recommendations for future action, many of which have catalytic global, national and local environmental, health and economic benefits. These include:

· Creating a new global coalition of government, business, civil society and individuals to develop a strategic vision of a long-term equilibrium between economic activities and natural systems

· Developing new sources of financing, including ‘climate finance’ from high-income countries to help emerging markets and others adapt to climate change, and support the upfront investments needed to switch to renewable energy.

· Redressing current inadequate tax and subsidy systems that work against environmental and health

· Supporting the role of local leaders as vehicles of change

· Reversing the traditional economic consensus that environmental initiatives harm economic growth and business; encouraging corporate capabilities in areas such as finance, technology and advertising to mobilize and help change behaviours; and strengthening corporate governance in emerging markets so they too can grow faster by focusing on eco-innovation.

· Exploring new forms of collaboration between international nongovernmental organizations and national organizations in emerging markets to strengthen the case for change locally.

· Urging mainstream and social media companies to take on more pro-active roles as gatekeepers in the face of campaigns led by particular vested interests that aim to undermine facts or disseminate ‘alternative facts’ (fake news).