Over the past half century, human activities have caused massive increase in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, which has increased global average temperature by almost 1 degree Celsius – above the pre-industrial level. As a result, the world is experiencing an increase in the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters that is not only having economic repercussions, but also social.

The World Bank classifies Pakistan as a ‘lower middle-income country’. It ranks as 150 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI), which is below the average of all countries in the HDI-category of ‘medium human development’, as well as average of the South Asian countries. The public health profile of Pakistan is also not impressive and the country continues to suffer from diseases, which are attributable to the environment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, 200 deaths per 100,000 population are attributable to the environmental factors in Pakistan. While there are numerous ways to improve the overall public health, transitioning from high-carbon to low-carbon economy through renewable energy is one of them, which can greatly help reduce air pollution and the associated health problems. Since the past decade, air pollution has been a growing concern for the country. With rapid urbanization and population growth, Pakistan is currently facing the worst air quality it has seen since becoming an independent state. AirVisual, an air quality monitor, ranks the major cities of Pakistan like Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and Peshawar among the most polluted cities in the world. As a result, World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that Pakistanis on average are losing two and half years of their life expectancy due to exposure to bad air.

Health implications of air pollution are serious. Globally, one-third of the deaths caused by strokes, lung cancer, and heart diseases are caused by air pollution . In Pakistan, approximately 22 per cent of annual deaths, which makes for more than 310,000 each year, are caused by air pollution . Air pollution and climate change are closely interlinked, as both have fossil fuel combustion as a common factor. Therefore mitigating one will also improve the other. Fortunately, Pakistan has immense potential in terms of renewable energy, particularly for solar and wind, which along with reducing its emissions can also greatly help in tackling some of its socioeconomic challenges like public health. Introducing renewables will help in reducing the pollutants and heavy metals from the air, which cause air pollution and in worst case scenarios, smog. Reducing these pollutants from the air will decrease the number of deaths caused by air pollution and will directly help reduce number of patients with cardiovascular and respiratory complaints.

During the ongoing climate conference in Germany, major discussions have centred around reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While there is divided opinion about the reduction targets, there is a unanimous decision with reference to its environmental and social benefits. During the conference, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, elaborated on the benefits of higher ambition for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and said, “Reducing our emissions also means cleaner air, cleaner water, health benefits and new green jobs.” Dr Fahad Saeed, Scientific Model and Data Manager of Climate Analytics, explained the benefits of renewable energy and transition towards low-carbon economy during one of the sessions of the conference.

–The writer is a freelance contributor.He said, “South Asian countries have great potential for renewable energy. Along with reducing emissions, it has various co-benefits, particularly for public health. Transition towards renewable energy will reduce outdoor air pollution and number of associated deaths.”

Public health is central to personal and societal well-being. Healthy population is more productive and significantly contributes towards the economic progress of the country. Air pollution has been a major threat to the public health for past couple of years and concrete actions are required to overcome it. While the government has been making efforts to improve the health systems of the country, this alone is not enough. There is also an urgent need to tackle the issue from the source and transition towards renewable energy in order to improve public health.