Study Links Fossil Fuels To A Million Deaths In 2017
In 2017 around 1.05 million deaths were avoidable by eliminating fossil fuel combustion, according to a study published in the science journal Nature Communications. The largest number of these deaths occurred in world’s two most populous countries – China and India.
Air pollution caused due to combustion of coal alone contributed to half of these deaths. Residential, industry and energy sectors were other dominant global sources of fossil fuel emissions. The study indicates that replacing traditional energy sources will have substantial health benefits.
The study was conducted by a group of interdisciplinary researchers from around the world and the findings were based on the examination of sources and health effects of air pollution in more than 200 countries and sub-national levels.
“We’ve known for a while that air pollution is a big contributor to deaths,” said Michael Brauer, a researcher part of the study and professor at University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health. “This study provides both a global perspective of the relative importance of different sources and a starting point for the many countries of the world who have yet to address air pollution as a health concern.”
The average global PM2.5 concentration was 41.7 μg/m3, with 91% of the world’s population experiencing annual average concentrations higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) annual average guideline of 10 μg/m3. PM.2.5 are fine inhalable particles that are 1/30th the size of a human hair and can go deep in the lungs, and even enter the bloodstream, causing serious health problems. More than 65% of the sub-national regions evaluated had higher PM2.5 concentrations than their national averages, the study found.
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Solid biofuel combustion was another source that was a contributing factor to thousands of deaths in countries like India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nigeria.
One of the key insights for policy makers from the study is that the sources of pollution were diverse and varied from place to place, meaning that the response would have to be locally driven.
For instance, while residential emissions were the largest source of average PM2.5 exposure and attributable mortality in China and India, areas surrounding Beijing and Singrauli (Madhya Pradesh, India) had relatively larger contributions from the energy and industry sectors.
Erin McDuffie, the lead author of the study and a visiting research associate at the Washington University in St. Louis explained that countries with the largest number of air pollution-related deaths typically had larger contributions from human-derived sources. “How many deaths are attributable to exposure to air pollution from specific sources? The comparisons in this study are important when it comes to considering mitigation. Ultimately, it will be important to consider sources at the sub-national scale when developing mitigation strategies for reducing air pollution.”