Health experts and policymakers from the South Asian region have proposed a regional working group to find and drive solutions to curb air pollution and lead with innovative climate action in the region.
As evidence grows about the impact poor air quality has on human health, they also called for collaborative action to phase out the use of fossil fuels - one of the largest contributors to air pollution in the region.
Members of Parliaments, health professionals and think tanks from India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, made the call at webinar held on Saturday ahead of Stockholm +50.
"Parliaments play a very important role to put pressure on the government for them to take responsibility for the air pollution problem. All South Asian governments need to consider that. Given the size of our community, and the common context, we need to have South Asia driven solutions," said Gaurav Gogoi, an MP from India.
Research shows that every one in six deaths in the world could be attributed to various types of pollution, particularly air pollution, with a lion's share in South Asia.
Home to over 1.85 billion people, South Asia is the world's most populated region, comprising middle and lower-middle-income countries which are afflicted with similar polluting sources and share a regional airshed making multi-sectoral mitigation efforts a mammoth challenge.
Dr Arvind Kumar, founder trustee, Lung Care Foundation, explained, "Doctors have been seeing the effects of air pollution on their patients every day - it is not a chemical issue, nor a temperature issue. It's a health issue and a fight for survival. Fossil fuels are the root cause of air pollution and the climate crisis. If we let fossil fuels continue to be used, humans will become fossils. We urgently need to shift to renewable green energy sources across all sectors."
The webinar "Resolving South Asia's Clean Air and Health Crisis – Phasing out Fossil Fuels for Clean Air – Evidence from Medical Professionals", organised jointly by the Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), Doctors For Clean Air & Climate Action, Fossil Fuel Treaty, and Climate Trends, is the second effort in a regional collaboration of health professionals, in responding to the evidence about the impact poor air quality has on human health. Fossil fuels are one of the largest contributors to air pollution in the region.
Pakistan MP Riaz Fatyana said, "Pakistan is badly affected by air pollution, which includes cross-border pollution as well. As a politician I see the need for regional cooperation in working towards a clean environment. We must include this in our manifesto, and work with our local government departments, for implementation of our clean air policies and international treaties. Our national afforestation plan has been in full swing, and needs to continue."
On a global scale, coal emissions can travel long distances affecting populations living far from power plants. To address this transboundary problem, South Asian lawmakers need a strong foundation of political will and science to build strong partnerships between governments, academia, industries and community groups, he said.
MP Prof Pushpa Kumari Karna Kayastha from Nepal said, "There has been enough evidence that poor air quality impacts human health. There are periods during winter and many other times during the rest of the year when the PM2.5 levels are way above WHO permissible limits. Hence there is need for urgent action. The MPs can pressure parliaments in different ways and that is what we are trying to do to ensure that governments work in the right direction."
Implementation of promised action too must be tracked, feel MPs. "As MPs we have a role to play in enacting budgetary legislation for cleaner air not just nationally and regionally but globally as well. In the Bangladesh parliament, we have declared a 'planetary emergency' due to the number of emerging crises that include increased frequency of disasters, water and food security, biodiversity loss, for which we have legislations in place, but have to ensure that they are implemented," said Bangladesh MP Saber H Chowdhury.