Wealth, poverty and climate change

This editorial discusses climate change and wealth, positing that rich countries must lead in a fight that affects both rich and poor.

The document includes a graph developed from calculations by Hughes at the University of Edinburgh. It shows the ratio of the cost of health and economic damage from local energy-derived air pollution (household indoor pollution from use of poor quality fuels and urban outdoor air pollution) to the cost of damage from climate change. A standard low discount rate is applied (3% per year) to convert future costs into the equivalent cost today.

The graph shows that, in poor countries, short-term local pollution typically causes three to four times more health and economic damage than climate change. This occurs even though poor countries are expected to experience much more health damage from climate change than rich countries. In contrast, in rich countries, long-term damage caused by climate change is greater, even after discounting, because short-term pollution has been greatly controlled.

The graph also reveals potential solutions. It shows the attractiveness of rich countries investing in poor countries to simultaneously reduce both local and global pollution. These “win–win” activities could benefit both countries because of their different discount rates and local impacts. An example is investing in clean household fuels that simultaneously halve the local health impact of air pollution and reduce climate-changing emissions.

Read the editorial (78 KB, PDF, http://ehs.sph.berkeley.edu)


Kirk R. Smith
Medical Journal of Australia
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