Each year, 6.5 million deaths are linked to air pollution. It is felt more particularly the poorest societies. 80 percent of the population living in cities that monitor air pollution levels breathe in air that do not meet air quality standards imposed by the World Health Organization.
This comes from the first in-depth study by the International Energy Agency, who says “many of its [air pollution] root causes and cures” are found in the energy industry.
Outdoor air pollution is expected to rise to 4.5 million by 2040 from today’s 3 million. Household air pollution, on the other hand, will see a decline from today’s 3.5 million to 3 million, also in the same period. These are said to be concentrated in developing Asian countries.
One of the three main causes of air pollution is poverty. Nearly three billion people in the world use biomass sources for cooking. Smoke inhalation from this is said to cause 3.5 million premature deaths annually.
Industries that rely heavily on fossil fuels are seen as major emitters, because burning one of the world’s major sources of energy, coal, accounts for 60 percent of sulfur-dioxide emissions that come from combustions.
Urbanization is also seen as a major cause of air pollution, as more cars ply along the roads of tightly packed cities.
The World Energy Outlook (WEO) report tackles the connection between air pollution, health, and the energy sector, which is said to be the fourth-largest threat to health, after high blood pressure, poor diets, and smoking.
But what is in the air we breathe? The study listed three pollutants with the greatest impact on health: particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide. All three are linked with chronic respiratory diseases. When dissolved into water, sulfur acid may result in acid rain.
Environmental issues are very important to emerging economies like India and China, whose cities are often plagued by choking smog, said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.
The transition that has been made since the COP 21 are seeing a decline in global emissions to 2040. China has seen a decline in its emissions, but in India, Southeast Asia, and Africa, meeting the demand for energy are seen as more urgent than tackling air quality.
“Clean air is a basic human right that most of the world’s population lacks,” he said. “No country – rich or poor – can claim that the task of tackling air pollution is complete. But governments are far from powerless to act and need to act now. Proven energy policies and technologies can deliver major cuts in air pollution around the world and bring health benefits, provide broader access to energy and improve sustainability.”
Birol said by adopting clean air standards and low-cost actions, countries may be able to make changes in their plight to reduce pollution in the coming years.