A race against the clock

Air pollution causes millions of premature deaths worldwide every year, as confirmed in each of the recent Global Burden of Disease surveys by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the world's most comprehensive epidemiological database. The economic cost, as calculated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and in other authoritative studies, runs into trillions of dollars.

Household air pollution results from the burning of solid fuels – such as coal but more usually renewable biomass – for cooking and other domestic consumption. Ambient air pollution results mainly from burning fossil fuels for use in transport, power plants, and industry. Road transport is the largest single source of deaths from ambient air pollution in the European Union, the United States, and most other advanced economies. Industry and coal-fired power plants play a larger role in China, India, and other emerging economies.

The annual world-wide death toll from household air pollution has been in slow decline, with recent estimates showing a fall in annual deaths from just above to just below 3 million from 2005 to 2015. The count has fallen to near zero in the advanced economies; in China it has been falling for the last two decades.

By contrast, the estimated annual world-wide death toll from ambient air pollution has continued to climb over the last quarter-century, with recent estimates showing an increase from just above 4 million in 2005 to 4.5 million in 2015. Advanced economies accounted for 0.5 million of these deaths. The centre of the problem lies in Asia: China and India alone accounted for an absolute majority of the total in 2015.


photo credit: fung.leo


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