Cities with high particulate concentrations, 2008-2009
---- -Focus on environmental sustainability -----
If Asia does find the physical energy supply it needs to fuel its growth, what would be the impact on the environment?
---Expanding the region’s primary energy mix as currently projected would have serious consequences for the environment, both in Asia ...
and globally. Local air and water quality, water availability, land use, and global climate all
stand to suffer greatly if projected energy demand is met mostly by fossil fuels.
Local impacts on air, water, and land
The current picture of Asia’s energy future entails significant damage to the local environment. Toxic emissions from fossil
fuels are already a serious problem. Air pollution degrades human health and drives up hospital admissions, and indoor air pollution causes premature death in women and children.
Air pollution is caused largely by energy production and use.
The energy and transport sectors generate 70% of nitrogen oxide emissions and 80% of emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter (PM10, referring to particles that are less
than 10 microns in diameter and therefore able to penetrate deep into the respiratory tract).
Sulfur dioxide emissions have grown in Asia, even per capita. Sulfur dioxide is responsible for the damage acid rain does to lakes and forests, and it poses serious human health risks. PM10 is an especially problematic air pollutant, its
inhalation strongly associated with heart and chronic lung disease. Roughly half of PM10 pollution comes from power plants, 30% from transportation, and most of the remainder
from wildfires and dust storms. Air pollution is projected to cause more than 3.6 million deaths per year by 2030 throughout the region, mostly in the PRC and India. With coal use projected to grow by over 50% during the forecast
period, air quality problems associated with sulfur dioxide and PM10 are likely to continue, absent aggressive limits placed on toxic emissions. Further, more cars portend ever-deeper concerns about air quality, especially in urban areas.
Clean Air Asia, the regional network on air-quality management, aggregated data from more than 300 Asian cities in 2012 and found that PM10 concentrations were within safe targets in only 16 cities, most of them in Japan. This means that more than 94% of the cities sampled have air unsafe to breathe. Setting an air quality guideline of 20 micrograms of PM10 per cubic meter as safe for long-term exposure (WHO 2008), the World Health Organization ranks cities that average 100 micrograms per cubic meter or worse and finds 34 of the world’s 57 most polluted cities in Asia (Figure 2.1.8).
Like air quality, water availability fares poorly under Asia’s projected energy future. Burning fossil fuels to generate electricity requires lots of water for cooling. Further, oil, gas, and biofuel all require significant quantities of water to produce. Asia is already notably vulnerable to water
scarcity, second only to Africa. Fuelwood and biofuels present additional problems because the resulting deforestation causes social dislocation and the loss of natural
carbon sinks and biodiversity. Present and projected demand for fuelwood exceeds the capacity of the natural ecosystem to supply it.
Biofuels derived from corn, oil palm, and other crops displace food
crops on farmland. Forests harvested for fuelwood or cleared to cultivate
biofuels account for much of current change in land use. -------------------PM10 = particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter.
--------- Note: Red bars represent cities in Asia.
Source: ADB 2012a., WHO Database: outdoor air pollution in cities