Key study links air pollution to over six million deaths

dark times:Economists argue that the emergence of China and India as key polluters calls for new strategies.— PHOTO: AFP

dark times:Economists argue that the emergence of China and India as key polluters calls for new strategies.— PHOTO: AFP  

A sobering report released on Monday by the International Energy Agency says air pollution has become a major public health crisis leading to around 6.5 million deaths each year, with “many of its root causes and cures” found in the energy industry.

The air pollution study is the first for the agency, an energy security group based in Paris, which is expanding its mission under its executive director, Fatih Birol.

The agency, whose 29 members are wealthy, industrialised countries, was founded in response to the Arab oil embargo in 1973 to coordinate international responses to energy issues.

Birol, an economist, argues that pressing concerns about climate change and the emergence of countries like China and India as major energy consumers and polluters mean that the agency needs to shift its strategy.

“To stay relevant,” he said in an interview on Friday, we “need to work much closer with new emerging energy economies.”

China’s role

Mr. Birol has been working to build bridges with China in particular, which energy experts say is crucial to the success of global efforts to reduce emissions.

“To solve today’s biggest energy problems, the IEA needs to have the world’s most important energy players as part of it,” said Jason Bordoff, director of the Centre on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.

Environmental issues, Mr. Birol said, are very important to emerging economies like India and China, whose cities are often plagued by choking smog.

Energy efficiency

Helping these countries solve problems through increasing energy efficiency or filtering out pollutants can make progress on climate change goals. We need to make these countries “understand that their problems are our problems,” Mr. Birol said. He appears to be well-suited to this approach. Born in Turkey, he obtained his doctorate in energy economics in Vienna and began his career as an analyst at the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the oil producers’ group, often seen as having an agenda rivalling the agency’s.

Mr. Birol appears to be pushing to make the agency crucial in coordinating a global approach to energy-related efforts. — New York Times News Service

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