By Daniel Otunge
The findings of a recent observational study (https://plos.io/3kjK0tl) of global datasets, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, shows low-income countries are significantly more likely to be impacted by both toxic pollution and climate change.
According to a list of at-risk countries by the authors of the peer reviewed research paper, led by Prof. Richard Marcantonio, of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA, all sub-Saharan African countries have low Ecosystem health and high vulnerability to climate change and toxic pollution.
In this age of the Anthropocene, it’s clear that human activities are destabilizing our planet across multiple systems. Anthropocene refers to the current geological age in which human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment that, according to some geological pundits, began with the Industrial Revolution.
According to Prof. Marcantonio, previous analyses have shown that low-income countries face higher risks than high-income countries from toxic pollution and climate change; however, few of those studies have explored the relationship between these two risks.
Consequently, the instant study tested the relationship between toxic pollution and climate change. To do this the authors collated and analyzed three frequently used public datasets: Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), Yale Environmental Performance Index (EPI), and Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP). They used data for 176 countries from 2018.
They found a strong and statistically significant relationship between the spatial distribution of global climate risk and toxic pollution. In other words, countries most at risk for impacts of climate change were most often also the countries facing highest risks of toxic pollution.
Such interaction of climate change and toxic pollution are known to create serious compounding issues, such as warming temperatures increase rates of heat-related illness and death as well as enhance the toxicity of environmental contaminants. For instance, recently the State of California, USA, recorded the highest temperature in its history.
The tragedy is that the top one-third of countries most at-risk of the effects of climate change toxic pollution interactivity represented over two-thirds of the world’s population, geographically concentrated in low-income countries across Africa and Southeast Asia.
The authors argue that the demographic, ecological, and social factors that make lao income countries more vulnerable are interconnected and demonstrate familiar broader patterns of inequality that obtain in such countries.
In addition, an interplay of the following factors works to exacerbate the risks in these countries. Such factors as physical geography, local structural conditions, including low capacity for environmental policy and enforcement, and corrupt external foreign firms taking advantage of reduced environmental regulation to dump toxic waste and or damage the environment in various ways.
In deed such misbehavior by translational firms makes quite imperative the push to make ecocide, destruction of the natural environment by deliberate or negligent human action, the firth international crime under the Rome Statute.
Based on their analysis, Prof. Richard Marcantonio and his team, created list of top-ten countries (Target list) that, they argue, could provide maximum returns on any investment for risk reduction based on their risk as well as their structural capacity to enact changes.
The countries in the ‘target list’ are Singapore, Rwanda, China, India, Solomon Islands, Bhutan, Botswana, Georgia, the Republic of Korea, and Thailand.
It instructive to note that the data used in this study do not capture all forms of harm or potential risk from toxic pollution and climate change—only those measured in the initial datasets, says the authors.
Additionally, the authors note that addressing impacts may require a finer intra-country assessment, since risks can vary widely within countries. However, the immediate findings clearly point to a need to jointly address the effects of pollution and climate change globally, while also suggesting an approach for policymakers worldwide.
This study ought to sound an alarm bell to African policy makers to move with speed to pass and implement laws to help cushion the environment from the affections of toxic pollution and climate change.
At the global level, it is imperative for the international community to use the upcoming 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to be held in Glasgow, UK, in November 2021, to start serious engagements toward legal recognition and adoption of ecocide as the fifth international crime, alongside genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression, through an amendment the Rome Statute that creates the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC).
Criminalizing ecocide should be added to the list as the sixth point in the Solidarity Package (cutting pollution, adaptation, finance, loss and damage, and implementation of measures on transparency and carbon trading) that the developing countries want prioritized during COP 26.