PARIS: While announcements and financial pledges emerge from COP28, without necessarily achieving consensus, a new study reveals the impact of air pollution caused by the use of fossil fuels on public health.
This is thought to be responsible for over five million additional deaths every year, or more than half of all deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution.
At COP28, currently taking place in Dubai, around 100 countries have pledged to triple their renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030, while 20 or so are in favour of tripling nuclear power capacity.
These two solutions are intended to avoid the use of fossil fuels, in particular coal and gas, which are considered highly polluting.
This is supported by a new study carried out by researchers in Europe and the US, who estimate that 5.13 million premature deaths worldwide are linked to atmospheric pollution caused by the use of these fuels every year.
“This equates to 61% of a total estimated 8.3 million deaths worldwide due to ambient (outdoor) air pollution from all sources in 2019, which could potentially be avoided by replacing fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources,” reads a news release summarizing the researchers’ findings.
According to the study authors, these new estimates are larger than most previously reported values, implying that the elimination of these fuels used in industry and transport, in particular, as well as for the production of electricity, could have a significant impact on public health.
61% of deaths due to air pollution
The researchers conducted a modelling study to estimate the number of deaths linked to air pollution from fossil fuel use.
Using data from the Global Burden of Disease 2019 study, NASA satellite data, and an atmospheric composition and relative risk model, they estimated ambient air pollution exposure, all-cause mortality and disease, and attributed them to several emission categories in four potential scenarios.
The first scenario assumed that all sources of fossil fuel emissions had been phased out, the second and third that 25% and 50% reductions in fossil fuel exposure had been achieved, and the fourth that all sources of manmade air pollution had been eliminated.
Published in The British Medical Journal (BMJ), the results suggest that 5.1 million deaths worldwide could be attributable to fossil fuel pollution. This would correspond to 61% of all deaths (8.3 million) linked to fine particles and ozone in ambient air.
Coronary heart disease (30%) and stroke (16%) are among the main “common conditions” associated with most of these deaths, although a fifth of deaths remained undefined, the researchers say.
It should also be noted that China and India appear to be the two countries most affected by deaths attributable to all sources of air pollution.
“Tremendous public health and climate co-benefits”
Still, according to the researchers’ estimates, some 460,000 deaths a year could be avoided by phasing out fossil fuels in high-income countries.
This figure rises to 3.85 million in South, South-East and East Asia, equivalent to between 80 and 85% of potentially avoidable deaths from sources of air pollution caused by human activity.
“The replacement of fossil fuels by clean, renewable energy sources would have tremendous public health and climate co-benefits,” the study authors say.
“Improved air quality would reduce the burden of several major diseases leading to healthier and longer lives, fewer patients requiring admission to hospital and other treatments, and decreasing the burden on health systems worldwide.”