Air pollution from power plants, vehicles and other sources of fine dust, for which the burning of fossil fuels is solely responsible, have increased the mortality risk significantly more than previously assumed. In 2012 alone, the polluted air led to 10.2 million premature deaths, according to a new study. So far, experts had expected that fine dust from fossil fuels could prematurely cost 8.8 million people worldwide every year.
According to scientists from the Universities of Harvard, Birmingham, Leicester and the University College in London, this value was only reached in 2018 due to climate protection. The team gives the number of premature deaths for this year in the now in the specialist journal Environmental Research published analysis with 8.7 million. The number of victims exceeds that of all the people who die each year worldwide from tobacco smoking and malaria.
Many dead in China and India
Researchers point to regions with a high proportion of particulate matter from fossil fuels, in particular China with 3.9 million premature deaths for 2012, India with 2.5 million and parts of the eastern USA, Europe and Southeast Asia. By 2018, the number in China had fallen to 2.4 million, after the country had reduced its emissions by 43.7 percent in the meantime. Three years ago, air pollution was still responsible for ten percent of deaths in the US and Europe.
In previous risk assessments, the overall health response to particulate matter (PM2.5) was in the foreground; the consequences of fossil fuels were mostly not examined alone. For the new study, the authors have now used a special concentration-effect function and also included previous findings and data in a meta-analysis for both high and low particulate matter concentrations. Rather than relying solely on averaged estimates from satellite and surface observations, the researchers used a global 3D model of NASA’s atmosphere with a more detailed resolution.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz (MPI) had calculated in 2019 that 5.5 million people worldwide would not have to die prematurely due to air pollution. As a prerequisite, they stated that mankind would have to forego fossil fuels entirely, rely only on renewable energies and also avoid other human-made emissions. In 2015, according to another study in Germany, around 13,000 premature deaths were caused by fine dust and ozone only from the transport sector.