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Biology environment

World no tobacco day: Tobacco impacts environment, not just health

World No Tobacco Day is observed on May 31 every year since 1987. This year, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) theme for the Day is “Tobacco: Threat to our environment.” This drive aims to create awareness among the public on the detrimental impact of tobacco cultivation, production, distribution, and waste on the environment, besides human health. 

According to WHO, about 3.5 million hectares of land are cleared for growing tobacco each year. It causes deforestation mainly in the developing nations. Tobacco cultivation results in soil degradation, making it infertile to support the growth of other crops or vegetation. Tobacco contributes 84 megatons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year; around twenty-two billion litres of water is consumed in the production of cigarettes every year. 

The situation is no different in India, where tobacco is one of the important cash crops. Today, India is the second-largest crop producer in the world after China. According to the Central Tobacco Research Centre of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), around 760 million kg of Tobacco is grown in India on about 40 lakh hectares of land. The sector provides jobs to millions of people and contributes as much as Rs.22,737 crore as excise duty and Rs.5,969 crore in foreign exchange to the national treasury. 

But a massive cost of tobacco cultivation is paid for by the country’s environment and people’s health. A report by the Ministry of health and family welfare says that “The total economic costs attributable to tobacco use from all diseases in India in the year 2011 for persons aged 35-69 amounted to Rs. 1,04,500 crores”. 

It is estimated that about 29% of the adult Indian population consumes Tobacco. Most commonly, it is consumed as Smokeless Tobacco Products like khaini, gutkha, and zarda. Smoking forms of tobacco are used as bidi, cigarette, hookah, etc. The smokeless forms pose high risks of oral and oesophageal cancer. Their consumption by pregnant women can also lead to stillbirth and low birth weight in infants. People addicted to smoking are, on the other hand, at very high risk of lung, oral cavity, pharynx, nasal cavity, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, kidney, ureter, urinary bladder, uterine cervix, and bone marrow cancers. 

Tobacco kills more people than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria combined worldwide. It has also been reported that tobacco consumption in both smoking and chewing forms is significantly associated with severe COVID-19 symptoms. Tobacco users’ pre-existing health conditions, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease, were observed to exacerbate disease symptoms, making treatment of COVID-19 patients more difficult owing to their fast clinical deterioration.

The environmental impacts of tobacco cultivation also add to India’s enormous economic burden. Tobacco is a very nutrient-hungry crop, and it depletes soil nutrients more rapidly. Tobacco cultivation requires the application of pesticides and fertilizers in large amounts, which degrade overall soil health. Tobacco cultivation results in soil erosion because it is typically grown as a monocrop (the practice of cultivating a single crop on the same farmland year after year), exposing the topsoil to wind and water. 

Besides, health risks are associated even with tobacco cultivation apart from consumption. Tobacco farmers are prone to suffer from a work-related ailment known as “Green Tobacco Sickness” (GTS), which is caused mainly by nicotine absorption via the skin. Nicotine is an addictive chemical found in tobacco. The studies carried out by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) on CTRI farms in Andhra Pradesh reveal discoloration of workers’ skin coming into contact with tobacco leaves. Headache, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, lack of appetite, exhaustion, and weakness are all signs of GTS, which can be caused even by tobacco storage in houses. Severe nicotine poisoning can adversely affect reproductive health and lead to breathlessness, blood pressure fluctuations, heart attack, and cancer. 

To cope with the tobacco epidemic, the Government of India enacted an extensive tobacco control law: The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003 (COTPA 2003), in 2004. This Act includes the prohibition of smoking in public places, advertisement of cigarettes and other tobacco products, sale of cigarettes or other tobacco products to anyone below the age of 18 years, and prohibition of selling areas like schools, colleges, etc. 

To make India addiction-free, the Government has launched programmes like National Tobacco Control Programme and Nasha Mukt Bharat Abhiyaan. Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare is also implementing a crop diversification programme. Farmers are encouraged to replace tobacco crops with less water-consuming alternatives to conserve water and soil. Under irrigated conditions, sugarcane, onion, maize, etc., and under rain-fed conditions, groundnut and soybean could be potential alternatives to tobacco farming. 

The WHO’s this year’s campaign on “Tobacco: Threat to our Environment” urges governments and policymakers to strengthen legislation and implementation of existing schemes that hold tobacco companies accountable for the environmental and economic costs of waste tobacco products. 

Categories
Covid-19 environment

CO2 Emissions bounce back!!

A new report by multiple international scientific agencies has flagged that fossil fuel emissions from coal, gas cement etc are back to 2019 levels or even higher in 2021.

Fossil CO2 emissions from coal, oil, gas and cement – peaked at 36.64 GtCO2 in 2019, followed by a significant drop of 1.98 GtCO2 (5.6%) in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Based on preliminary estimates, global emissions in the power and industry sectors were already at the same level or higher in January-July 2021 than in the same period in 2019, before the pandemic, highlights of the United in Science report said on Thursday.

United in Science is coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with input from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Global Carbon Project (GCP) etc. The full report will be released later today.

While emissions from road transport remained about 5% lower. Apart from aviation and sea transport, global emissions were at about the same levels as in 2019, averaged across those 7 months.

Concentrations of all major greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (NO) continued to increase in 2020 and the first half of 2021, the report said, adding that overall emissions reductions in 2020 likely reduced the annual increase of the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases “but this effect was too small to be distinguished from natural variability.”

United in Science has reiterated that there is high chance that global average temperature in one of the next five years will be at least 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) higher than pre-industrial levels. Annual global mean near-surface temperature is likely to be within the range 0.9°C to 1.8°C in the next five years. There is a 40% chance that average global temperature in one of the next five years will be at least 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels but it is very unlikely (~10%) that the 5-year mean temperature for 2021–2025 will be 1.5°C warmer.

The report has also flagged that coastal cities around the world; low lying coastal areas, small islands and deltas will need adaptation strategies urgently. Global mean sea levels rose 20 cm from 1900 to 2018 and at an accelerated rate of 3.7+0.5 mm/yr from 2006 to 2018. Even if emissions are reduced to limit warming to well below 2°C, global mean sea level would likely rise by 0.3–0.6 m by 2100. “Adaptation to this residual rise will be essential – adaptation strategies are needed where they do not exist – especially in low-lying coasts, small islands, deltas and coastal cities,” the report has said.

“Throughout the pandemic we have heard that we must build back better to set humanity on a more sustainable path and to avoid the worst impacts of climate change on society and economies. This report shows that so far in 2021 we are not going in the right direction,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

This report shows just how far off course we are. The past five-year period is among the hottest on record. We continue to destroy the things on which we depend for life on Earth. Ice caps and glaciers continue to melt, sea-level rise is accelerating, the ocean is dying and biodiversity is collapsing. This year, fossil fuel emissions have bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. Greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise to new record highs. We now have five times the number of recorded weather disasters than we had in 1970 and they are seven times more costly. Even the most developed countries have become vulnerable,” said UN Secretary-General, António Guterres on the launch of the report.

He added that UN climate negotiations (COP26) this November must mark that turning point. “By then we need all countries to commit to achieve net zero emissions by the middle of this century and to present clear, credible long-term strategies to get there. We need all countries to present more ambitious and achievable Nationally Determined Contributions that will together cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. Nothing less will do.”

Guterres, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson have called an informal, closed-door roundtable with a small but representative group of heads of state and government, on the sidelines of the General Assembly, on Monday September 20. The Informal Climate Leaders Roundtable on Climate Action follows the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and comes less than six weeks before the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

IPCC’s report last month had flagged that the world may have lost the opportunity to keep global warming under 1.5°C over pre-industrial levels. The 1.5°C global warming threshold is likely to be breached in the next 10 to 20 years by 2040 in all emission scenarios including the one where carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions decline rapidly to net zero around 2050.

According to senior officials in the UN, the focus of the meeting will be a road map for the 1.5°C goal; climate mitigation and adaptation finance particularly the commitment to mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020 by developed countries.