‘Health sector like others should reduce its climate footprint’

skyAs concerns about climate change are rising, Director of World Health Organisation (Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health) Dr Maria Neira has made a call that the health sector too should lower its climate footprint.

Hospitals, as they operate today, are energy-intensive enterprises that contribute substantially to climate change. To reduce their environmental impact, they can adopt basic measures such as reducing toxic waste, using safer chemicals and purchasing eco-friendly products, she says.

She cites the example of a hospital in Jaipur, a 350-bed health facility that cut its total energy bill by half between 2005 and 2008 through solar-powered water heaters and lightning. In Brazil, one efficiency project reduced the demand for electricity of a group of 101 hospitals by 1035 kilowatts at a cost savings of 25 per cent.

But for the Jaipur hospital, the situation in India is no different from rest of the world. Hospitals consume a lot of electricity. In addition, they waste a lot of energy by subjecting patients to unnecessary procedures, just to make money. There is no attempt to reduce waste though facilities have come up for disposal of biomedical waste.

WHO estimates that climate change will cause an additional 250000 deaths a year between 2030 and 2050— mostly from malaria, diarrhoea, heat exposure and under-nutrition. That is, if human beings do not take steps to reduce their carbon foot print, the living earth will. However, the irony will be that the victims will be the poorer sections of the society; not the people who pollute the most.

The United States is doing little to reduce its emissions, while India and other nations have offered to reduce emissions intensity significantly. A study by Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, the per capita household consumption expenditure of US is double that of an EU-28 household, 24 times a Chinese one, 44 times an Indian’s, 64 times a household in Bangladesh and 173 times a Malawi household.

Energy system in the US would remain fossil fuel heavy with 76 per cent of total primary energy coming from fossil fuels in 2030. Renewables contribution would just be 15 per cent by 2030. While India goes ahead with his ambitious plan to reduce climate footprint, it should also press that the United Nations and others make an equal, if not better, contribution. Those who created the problems should also be pressed to foot the bill.

Neo colonialism on the climate change front

As India heads for Doha discussions on climate change this week, a question that arises is whether we would be entering into agreements similar to the ones the princely States of India entered with colonial powers. Like the way colonialism stymied our development, the climate talks too have the potential to crush our growth.

An old story
Pepper attracted foreign traders to Kerala for centuries and one of the things the Europeans wanted, back in the 18th century, was runner shoots of black pepper vines for planting.  As the story goes, then ruler of Calicut Zamorin asked his minister Mangattachan about the wisdom of allowing planting material to be taken to Europe when pepper exports earned much money for Kerala.  The Minister’s reply was that they could not take away the Thiruvathira Njattuvela. [Najattuvela means position of sun and there are 27 njattuvelas in Malayalam calendar. The Thiruvathira Njattuvela (15 days), occurs around the middle of South West monsoon which is considered suitable for planting shoots of pepper vines.] However, the situation now is that even the Thiruvathira Njattuvela would be taken away by the over-consumption of developed nations.


The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Frame Work Convention on Climate Change and the eighth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol takes place from November 26 to December 7, 2012, at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, Qatar.


Carbon  loads

Historically, the USA has emitted nearly 50 times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than India.  Rich countries have been responsible for about 70 per cent of the emissions between 1840 and 2006. (CSE ) However, they are not willing to shoulder the burden of reducing emissions in proportion.  The USA is yet to agree to bring down their emission levels to that of 1990 while the European Union has already brought it down by 16 per cent below1990 levels.

Global emissions have grown from 534 million tonnes of carbon in 1900 to 9265 million tonnes in 2011 (Earth Policy Institute).  Per capita emissions of USA were more than ten times that of India in 2011. And there is urgency in addressing the problem because climate change is at the doors.  However, countries are not making enough commitments to check global warming.

At Doha, developed countries would be trying to eliminate the differentiation between the developed and developing countries in cutting emissions. This has to be fought against by developing countries. The developed countries need be accountable for the carbon load they had dumped on the world knowingly and unknowingly over the years.