A multidisciplinary international research team discovered a strong and statistically significant correlation between the spatial distribution of global climate risk and toxic pollution.
For more than three decades, scientists on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC) have concentrated on climate change caused by humans. Their fifth assessment report was instrumental in securing the Paris Agreement in 2015 and, shortly thereafter, a special report on the danger of global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The Nobel laureate team emphasised that mitigating global warming “would make it significantly easier to achieve many aspects of sustainable development, with a greater potential for poverty eradication and inequality reduction.”
In a first-of-its-kind study, Drew (Richard) Marcantonio, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Notre Dame, doctoral student Sean Field (anthropology), Associate Professor of Political Science Debra Javeline, and Princeton’s
In other words, countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are frequently also the most vulnerable to toxic pollution.
They also examined other variables, such as the spatial distribution of toxic environments, total pollution-related mortality, and climate risk, and discovered a strong correlation.
They write in their forthcoming PLOS paper, “Global distribution and correlation of pollution, climate impacts, and health risk in the Anthropocene,” that “deaths from toxic pollution are highest in areas with the greatest distribution of toxic pollution and, critically, also in areas with the greatest risk from climate change.”
“While it is unsurprising that these risks are highly correlated, this article provides the data and analysis necessary to inform policy with previously unavailable data and analysis,” Javeline said.
Javeline, Marcantonio, Field, and Fuentes used data from three indexes to complete the study. The ND-GAIN index, which includes 182 countries, summarises a country’s vulnerability and exposure to climate-related risks, as well as its willingness to improve climate resilience.
The EPI ranks 180 countries based on 24 performance indicators covering ten issue categories ranging from environmental health to ecosystem vitality. Finally, GAHP estimates a country’s toxic pollution deaths, which include those caused by toxic air, water, soil, and chemical pollution on a global scale.
To make their findings more useful to policymakers, the authors developed what they call “Target,” a metric that takes into account a country’s risk of climate impacts, toxic pollution, and its potential readiness to mitigate these risks.
Singapore, Rwanda, China, India, Solomon Islands, Bhutan, Botswana, Georgia, the Republic of Korea, and Thailand are the top ten countries they recommend focusing on based on these criteria.
Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Jordan, the Central African Republic, and Venezuela are among the countries at the bottom of the list. These nations are most likely to have unresolved governance issues that currently obstruct effective pollution management.
“Notably, our results find that the top one-third of countries at risk of toxic pollution and climate impacts represent more than two-thirds of the world’s population, highlighting the magnitude of the problem and unequal distribution of environmental risk. Given that a large portion of the world’s population lives in countries at higher toxic pollution and climate impacts risk, understanding where and how to target in pollution risk mitigation is critical to maximizing reductions of potential human harm,” they write.
The authors also note that by mitigating toxic pollution in large countries with high populations such as China and India, neighbouring countries will also benefit. China’s Air Pollution and Prevention and Control Action Plan of 2013, which specifically targets toxic emissions, is producing impressive results. Since the plan’s implementation, researchers have discovered a 40% reduction in toxic emissions.
“The idea of Target is to highlight where action can be taken to reduce risk to human health and flourishing, but how that targeting is done- e.g., incentives vs. sanctions — requires moral reflection to determine what actions should be taken and who should take them. This is particularly true given the general inverse relationship between who is most accountable for creating these risks and who is most vulnerable “According to Marcantonio.
During the 2021-22 academic year, the University, through its annual Notre Dame Forum, will engage in a series of conversations devoted to the theme “Care for Our Common Home: Just Transition to a Sustainable Future.”
Inspired by Laudato Si’ and Pope Francis’ continued emphasis on these issues, the forum will feature a wide range of discussions and events over the coming year.
Since its establishment in 2005, the Notre Dame Forum has featured major talks by leading authorities on issues of importance to the University, the nation, and the larger world, including the challenges and opportunities of globalization, the role of presidential debates, immigration, and the place of faith in a pluralistic society.