More than 8 million people died in 2018 as a result of air pollution from fossil fuels, according to researchers at the University of Harvard.
Previous estimates have put the total number of global deaths at 4.2 million, however, this study has highlighted that the death toll is much greater than previously suggested.
Previous research has relied on satellite and surface observations to estimate the average global annual concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5), however, according to the researchers, the problem with this method is that the observations can’t tell the difference between particles from fossil fuel emissions and those from dust, wildfires or other sources.
To overcome this, the Harvard researchers used GEOS-Chem, a global 3D model of atmospheric chemistry to estimate the emissions from multiple sectors, including power, industry, shipping, aircraft and ground transportation and then they simulated detailed oxidant-aerosol chemistry.
They found that the regions with the highest concentrations of fossil fuel-related air pollution were in Eastern North America, Europe and South-East Asia.
The researchers estimated that China’s decision to cut its fossil fuels emissions nearly in half saved 2.4 million lives worldwide, including 1.5 million lives in China, in 2018.
Joel Schwartz, Professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard University said: ‘Often when we discuss the dangers of fossil fuel combustion, it’s in the context of CO2 and climate change and overlook the potential health impact of the pollutants co-emitted with greenhouse gases.
‘We hope that by quantifying the health consequences of fossil fuel combustion, we can send a clear message to policymakers and stakeholders of the benefits of a transition to alternative energy sources.’
‘Our study adds to the mounting evidence that air pollution from ongoing dependence on fossil fuels is detrimental to global health. We can’t in good conscience continue to rely on fossil fuels, when we know that there are such severe effects on health and viable, cleaner alternatives.’
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