The rising environmental pollution affects individual welfare and both natural and physical capital, which, in fact, limit economic growth.
As some of the agents of environmental pollution also influence climate change, overall impacts of pollution are often far-reaching and long-term.
There is evidence of a very high cost of pollution and yet, we continue to experience unbridled pollution across the globe. As an environmental economist, I will talk about a few selected examples of the high cost of pollution the world is exposed to and conclude with the rationale behind pursuing efforts to make the environment poison free.
River pollution, for instance, is rampant all over the world. Industrial productions, which contribute significantly to the national GDP, are largely responsible for river pollution in some countries.
Media reports on such pollution frequently and we often come across stories of irreversible damages of water bodies, attributable to the indiscriminate discharges from these industries.
While we measure the economic progress till date on the basis of GDP growth, taking into account the value addition of different activities over a fiscal year, we condone the cost of damage inflicted upon the rivers by industries.
The GDP growth, therefore, will not be the same if the cost of river pollution is fully discounted. A recent article in the Guardian mentioned that the biodiversity of more than half of the rivers in the world have been seriously damaged, pollution being one of the leading factors.
Furthermore, a mere 14 percent of the river basin area of the world is free from serious human interventions.
Brick kilns, for example, in several Asian countries including Bangladesh, cause severe air pollution as outdated and inefficient coal-based technologies are still being used to burn bricks.
Research documents substantiate strong evidence of using wood and old tires by the kiln operators, who disregard available regulations. Smoke released from chimneys of these kilns affect the health of the people living in the close vicinity and within a few kilometers of the kilns, resulting in loss of working hours.
This smoke is also liable for a significant number of premature annual deaths. Additionally, people working in these kilns, where in many cases occupational health and safety measures are flouted, suffer from various pollution-related diseases.
Likewise, coal-powered plants, usage of plastic across the globe, transport emission and many other activities contribute to pollution. Air pollution in 2019 alone was accountable for 6.67 million premature deaths globally, as the report "Global State of Air 2020" delineated.
The report further stated that air pollution was the fourth leading risk factor for global deaths in 2019, moving up from fifth position in the previous year. Moreover, air pollution is no less notorious in Bangladesh as it reportedly killed 173,500 people in 2019.
Regrettably, air pollution is not just a health risk but also a serious drag on development.
Loss of working hours and productivity impede economic development. A World Bank study from 2016 quantified that the welfare loss in South Asia, attributable to air pollution, in 2013 amounted to 7.4 percent of the GDP.
Latest data may shed light on the present economic consequences due to pollution. Moreover, some of the catalysts of air pollution are also the culprits that cause climate change.
Countries pay exorbitantly for the loss of life, biodiversity and natural and physical capital due to disasters induced by climate change. Bangladesh, for instance, is still bearing the brunt of cyclones SIDR and AILA, and the sufferings of coastal people have only compounded after the super cyclone Amphan from last year.
The recent cyclone Yaas is another addition to the long list of disasters.
Despite the enormous toll of disease, death and suffering, and the conclusion drawn by different studies on the economic consequences of pollution, the lack or pace of required global response presents significant future challenges we may confront.
Often study and research outputs on the economics of containing pollution, comparative assessment of different countries and the need for adopting stringent regulations or "pricing instruments" to internalise the cost of pollution are unappreciated or underappreciated.
However, if we are to develop in a way that is more productive with minimum welfare loss, we need to learn from the evidence and ensure that our air, soil and water are free of poisons.
Moving forward, the best decisions the governments across the globe could take is to provide relevant agencies with sufficient resources to curb pollution.
Different governments undertake different measures to address pollution, depending on national circumstances, constraints and other contextual elements. However, it is also increasingly evident that businesses can pursue their long-term goals, which are compatible with environmental regulations.
Technologies generating less pollution, which were once avant-grade, are not only matured now but also cheaper while becoming more competitive over time.
These imply, in particular, that gearing up transformative changes vis-à-vis pollution across the world is highly expedient. Correspondingly, an increasing number of people in different countries are keen to support such transformative changes - either by improving the existing initiatives or taking up new ones.
It is, however, necessary to assess these initiatives, whether the existing or new ones, to comprehend the realistic chances of delivering the results and their cost-effectiveness in reducing pollution.
Alongside these, the sustainability of the initiatives should be the prime concern.
Finally, addressing pollution involves more than technological interventions and it calls for behavioural change of individuals in terms of how they can contribute to reducing pollution and saving the environment.
Awareness raising is, therefore, the key to bringing individuals on board and fighting the war against pollution.
And the world environment day, celebrated on June 5 each year, reminds us of the individual and collective responsibilities vis-à-vis addressing pollution.
Nevertheless, if we really want to see meaningful changes in the foreseeable future, we need to act consistently throughout the year.
Shafiqul Alam is an environmental economist and a Humboldt scholar