The Blame Game – Who is Responsible for China’s Air Pollution Problem?

I am trying something different in this blog post, reviewing a recent scientific publication that I believe is both important and timely.

The publication I am referring to is from a number of authors from leading universities and institutes in China, USA and Canada – Lin et al. 2016. Global climate forcing of aerosols embodied in international trade. Nature Geoscience

The abstract for this paper clearly describes the intent of the study and its conclusions:

International trade separates regions consuming goods and services from regions where goods and related aerosol pollution are produced. Yet the role of trade in aerosol climate forcing attributed to different regions has never been quantified. Here, we contrast the direct radiative forcing of aerosols related to regions’ consumption of goods and services against the forcing due to emissions produced in each region. Aerosols assessed include black carbon, primary organic aerosol, and secondary inorganic aerosols, including sulfate, nitrate and ammonium. We find that global aerosol radiative forcing due to emissions produced in East Asia is much stronger than the forcing related to goods and services ultimately consumed in that region because of its large net export of emissions-intensive goods. The opposite is true for net importers such as Western Europe and North America: global radiative forcing related to consumption is much greater than the forcing due to emissions produced in these regions. Overall, trade is associated with a shift of radiative forcing from net importing to net exporting regions. Compared to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, the short atmospheric lifetimes of aerosols cause large localized differences between consumption- and production-related radiative forcing. International efforts to reduce emissions in the exporting countries will help alleviate trade-related climate and health impacts of aerosols while lowering global emissions.

What this means in more simplistic terms is that the demand for goods in the west is a major contributor of air pollution in some developing countries

Interesting.  Perhaps its time we in the west stop playing the blame game. 

Rather than pointing fingers at China and India, perhaps we need to take a look at ourselves as contributors to the severe air quality problems in those countries and the resulting global impacts that affect all of us? 

Perhaps its time to consider how goods are distributed globally in future climate framework strategies?  

Perhaps it is time to and for consumers in wealthier regions to, in some manner, pay to improve emissions standards in the countries that produce goods that they use?

In any case, an interesting and important study and one that provides more food for thought.

Thanks for reading.  Keep safe.  Be healthy.  Respect your environment.


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Randall D. Shaw, Ph.D.
Managing Director at Redlog Environmental Ltd.
Dr. Randall Shaw is Managing Director of Redlog Environmental Ltd. He has a wide-ranging background in health, safety and environment, with a focus on those HSE issues faced by industry in Asia. Dr. Shaw’s blog posts on HSE issues in Asia are based on his experience from working in more than 30 countries, his pragmatic approach to solving HSE problems, and his desire to pass on this knowledge to others. Ultimately, his goal is to help HSE professionals and companies active in the developing world tackle their HSE issues. You can find him on Twitter (@RedlogHSE) and LinkedIn and he is always keen to discuss HSE issues with others.
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