Health Benefits and Cost Savings of Renewable Energy in China and India Georgetown Environmental Law Review

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Health Benefits and Cost Savings of Renewable Energy in China and India

By Richard Flannery, Staff Contributor

Economic development is widely considered to be one of the best tools to improve quality of life in developing nations, but it often comes at a high price. Raising factories, developing new industries, and encouraging workers to move to more urban areas can improve life for people in developing countries, it can also degrade that quality of life. In 2010, air pollution in China contributed to nearly 1.2 million premature deaths.[1] In 2013, an eight-year-old girl became the youngest person in China to be diagnosed with lung cancer, which doctors say was caused by air pollution.[2] The pollution problem is not solely from airborne pollutants, but from water contamination as well. According to estimates, around 11 percent of all digestive system cancers are the result of contaminated drinking water.[3] Although economic development has helped improve the economic situation of millions of Chinese citizens, the negative environmental impact on the world is far greater than the negative impact of any other single country.[4]

While China, the thirteenth fastest growing economy,[5] faces serious environmental challenges, the eighth fastest growing country,[6] India, also faces significant environmental challenges. Problems such as degradation of land, air pollution, and water pollution and scarcity are serious challenges that have increased with the population in India.[7] The most prominent contributors to increased urban air pollution are industrialization, pollution from vehicles, and the burning of fossil fuels.[8] In India’s countryside, animal waste and fertilizers have contaminated both the soil and water supply.[9] Premature deaths and harmful exposure to lead and other chemicals have increased exponentially in the last five years, especially for children under age three.[10] While economic growth and industrialization have caused these problems in China and India, these countries are turning a corner by investing in renewable energy sources for the future.

“China spent $56.3 billion on renewable energy sources including wind and solar in 2013.[12] This amount was 61 percent of the global investment for that year.”

Recognizing the negative environmental impacts described above, these countries have decided to make a change in how they developed their economies. While China is poised to become the largest importer of oil in the world, it was also the largest investor in renewable energy for 2013.[11] China spent $56.3 billion on renewable energy sources including wind and solar in 2013.[12] This amount was 61 percent of the global investment for that year.[13] With China leading the way in renewable energy spending, both developing and developed countries should follow suit where it is economically feasible to do so. China also plans to have 20 percent of its energy come from renewable resources by 2020.[14] China is not alone in this renewable energy revolution. A Bloomberg study of 55 developing nations found that the amount of energy derived from renewable resources was 142 gigawatts combined from 2008-2013.[15] This was a 143 percent growth in renewables over the measured period.[16] In contrast, developed nations increased their renewable energy resources by only 84 percent.[17] This disparity shows that while developing nations are focused on growing their economies, they are also dedicated to clean energy through renewable resources.

In Jamaica, energy derived from solar panels would cost half as much as energy derived from traditional resources.[18] Likewise, in Nicaragua, energy from wind may be half as expensive as traditional sources.[19] These two examples illustrate that the commitment to spending the upfront capital on renewable resources can ultimately lead to a reduced cost of energy, which can help spur development. Instead of spending money on heating and electricity, citizens can spend money on food, water, clothing, and education.

“A substantial investment in green energy might slightly reduce India’s overall GDP, but the savings in healthcare costs would cover the difference by nearly a 2 to 1 margin.”[21]

India needs to adopt a green energy approach in order to continue its rapid growth. While economic development has allowed millions to ascend from poverty, the environmental costs have been great.[20] A substantial investment in green energy might slightly reduce India’s overall GDP, but the savings in healthcare costs would cover the difference by nearly a 2 to 1 margin.[21] Both China and India have made great strides in economic development over the last decade, and projections indicate that this will continue into the future.[22] Both of these countries have developed to a point where investment in renewable energy is not only feasible, but would greatly benefit their citizens as well. Cleaner water, less polluted air, and uncontaminated food and soil would all have major positive health effects on the populations of both China and India, and could increase long term GDP.[23] While the initial investment in renewable energy may be too costly for some of the less developed nations, the time is right for both China and India to commit to the long term health and welfare of their citizens. China has shown it is capable of investing in new energy and has started reaping that the benefits of that investment.[24] India should take steps to make the initial investment in renewable energy so that its current and future citizens can reap the benefits as well.

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[1] Belina Xu, Chinas Environmental Crisis, Center on Foreign Relations (Apr. 25, 2014), http://www.cfr.org/china/chinas-environmental-crisis/p12608.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Elena Holodny, The 13 Fastest-Growing Economies in the World, Business Insider (Jun. 12, 2015, 8:03 AM), http://www.businessinsider.com/world-bank-fast-growing-global-economies-2015-6.

[6] Id.

[7] Dewaram A. Nagdeve, Population Growth and Environmental Degradation in India 12 (Population Ass’n of Am., Working Paper, 2007), http://paa2007.princeton.edu/papers/7192.

[8] Id. at 12.

[9] Id. at 13.

[10] Id.

[11] Jack Perkowski, China Leads In Renewable InvestmentAgain!, Forbes (Jun. 17, 2014), http://www.forbes.com/sites/jackperkowski/2014/06/17/china-leads-in-renewable-investment-again/.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Justin Doom, Poor Countries Tap Renewables at Twice the Pace of Rich, Bloomberg Business (Oct. 28, 2014, 5:00 AM), http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-10-28/cost-competitive-clean-energy-installs-surge-in-emerging-nations.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] India: Green Growth-Overcoming Environment Challenges to Promote Development, The World Bank (Mar. 6, 2014), http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2014/03/06/green-growth-overcoming-india-environment-challenges-promote-development.

[21] Id.

[22] See Holodny, supra note 5.

[23] See India: Green Growth-Overcoming Environment Challenges to Promote Development supra note 20; see also Belina, supra note 1.

[24] Perkowski, supra note 11.

One response to “Health Benefits and Cost Savings of Renewable Energy in China and India Georgetown Environmental Law Review

  1. At last, big western democracies coming together to make decisions regarding the impact of climate change. It is long overdue. Let us all hope that it isn’t too late to turn the tide, and that they go for long-term policies rather than short term, which usually means profits are being protected. Great article.

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