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Pollution from international trade killed 700,000 in one year - scientists

by J.D. Capelouto | @jdcapelouto | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 29 March 2017 17:00 GMT

The findings are the first time premature deaths globally are linked with international trade

By J.D. Capelouto

LONDON, March 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Air pollution from industries making goods for export are linked to more than 700,000 premature deaths worldwide in a single year, affecting people living thousands of kilometres from the source of pollution and those nearby, researchers said Wednesday.

Emissions from industries in China producing goods for export are linked to deaths from heart disease, stroke and lung cancer in the United States, for example, the researchers said in a report published in the journal Nature.

"Premature mortality related to air pollution is more than just a local issue and our findings quantify the extent to which air pollution is a global problem," said Dabo Guan, a co-author of the study and climate change economics professor at the University of East Anglia.

"International trade is further globalising the issue of air pollution mortality by allowing production and consumption activities to be physically separated," Guan said in a statement.

The report is the first to link premature deaths globally with international trade, the researchers said, and draws on data from 2007.

In 2007, some 3.45 million deaths were related to fine particulate matter, the report said.

Of these, an estimated 762,400 deaths were associated with goods produced in one region for consumption in another, it said.

Globally, some 411,100 people died prematurely because of all air pollution emitted in a different parts of the world, including pollution from industries producing goods for local consumption.

Chinese emissions caused twice the number of deaths - 64,800 - worldwide as pollution from any other region.

Meanwhile consumption in western Europe and the United States was linked to more than 108,600 premature deaths in China.

Cheap imports may be produced at the expense of lives elsewhere, if their cost is made lower because of less stringent pollution control policies, the report said.

"There is some evidence that the polluting industries have tended to migrate to regions with more permissive environmental regulations, suggesting that there may be tension between efforts to improve air quality in a given region and to attract direct foreign investment," the scientists said.

A potential solution to curb the number of pollution-caused deaths is a tax on pollutant emissions, costs that would be shared with consumers globally, they said.

Another possible fix — improved pollution control technology in China, India and the United States — would "have a disproportionately large health benefit in those regions and worldwide", the researchers said.

"International co-operation to support such pollution abatement efforts and reduce ‘leakage' of emission via international trade is in the global interest," they said.

(Reporting by J.D. Capelouto; Editing by Alex Whiting. (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)))

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