Paris climate summit 2015

For the sake of humanity, China, India and others must stick to Paris deal on climate change

Fears have been raised that governments which have signed the Paris pact could back out. They cannot; doing so would be a global disaster

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 February, 2016, 12:39am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 February, 2016, 12:39am

China and India, as developing nations with the two biggest populations in the world, unsurprisingly suffer more than other countries when it comes to the ill-effects of air pollution. What is astounding, though, is just how severely their citizens are affected. A recent global study found that of the 5.5 million people who died prematurely in 2013 as a result of toxic emissions, 55 per cent were from the two Asian giants. It is shocking proof of just how much work remains for their governments to eliminate hazardous pollutants.

The task is daunting. Scientists from China, India, the US and Canada, presenting their findings at the annual meeting in Washington of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, determined that conditions caused by air pollution killed 1.6 million Chinese and 1.4 million Indians in 2013. Hundreds of thousands in both countries died from afflictions associated with the burning of coal for electricity and heating.

Both nations pledged at the Paris climate change talks in December to implement tough targets to cut emissions by 2030. China vowed its emissions would peak in that year and 20 per cent of power would be generated from non-carbon sources. India had even loftier aims, promising a 33 to 35 per cent cut from 2005 levels, to generate 40 per cent of its electricity cleanly and to plant millions of trees to absorb three billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. The world needs such assurances to stop global temperatures from rising, but they are of little worth unless backed by action.

China is moving in the right direction, having committed to capping and reducing coal, shifting factories out of urban areas, tightening standards for new vehicles and pushing nuclear and other clean ways of producing electricity. Continuing high smog levels in Beijing and other large cities show that there is a long way to go, though. But the road is even longer for India, where air pollution has only been an issue in the past few years. While the Chinese government is taking action, Indian officials continue to make vague promises and put economic growth ahead of environmental concerns.

Proving how difficult the challenge is, the US Supreme Court last week ordered environmental authorities not to enact President Barack Obama’s new rules for coal power plants until its justices decide their legality. Fears have been raised that governments which have signed the Paris deal could back out. They cannot; doing so would be a disaster for the world’s people.