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Small Increase In Energy Investment Could Save 3 Million Lives From Air Pollution In 2040

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A small increase in energy investment is all it would take to save 3 million lives in 2040 from premature death due to air pollution, according to the International Energy Agency.

In its first ever in-depth analysis of air quality, and as part of its World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has highlighted the link between energy, air pollution, and health, and identified contributions the global energy sector can make in an effort to curb poor air quality — the fourth-largest threat to human health.

Three key areas require government action immediately, according to the authors of the report:

  1. Setting an ambitious long-term air quality goal, to which all stakeholders can subscribe and against which the efficacy of the various pollution mitigation options can be assessed.
  2. Putting in place a package of clean air policies for the energy sector to achieve the long-term goal, drawing on a cost-effective mix of direct emissions controls, regulations, and other measures, giving due weight to the co-benefits for other energy policy objectives.
  3. Ensuring effective monitoring, enforcement, evaluation, and communication: keeping a strategy on course requires reliable data, a continuous focus on compliance and on policy improvement, and timely and transparent public information.

According to the IEA, each year an estimated 6.5 million deaths can be linked to air pollution — and that number is, unsurprisingly, only expected to increase in the coming decades. 80% of the global population living in cities that monitor pollution levels are surrounded by air that fails to meet air quality standards set by the World Health Organization. Specifically, premature deaths caused by outdoor air pollution are expected to rise from 3 million currently, to 4.5 million by 2040, while household air pollution premature deaths will decrease from 3.5 million to 3 million over the same period.


“Clean air is a basic human right that most of the world’s population lacks,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “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.”

The World Energy Outlook Special Report 2016: Energy and Air Pollution, concludes that many of the root causes of these premature deaths can be traced back to the energy sector. The majority of air pollutant emissions come from the energy sector, which is responsible for 85% of particulate matter, and almost all of the sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, and the three together are responsible for the most widespread impacts of air pollution.

According to the authors of the IEA report, the future predictions concerning global air quality are not set in stone, and can be modified by appropriate policies. The report sets forward scenarios tailored to various country circumstances, and its Clean Air Scenario shows that energy policy backed by a 7% increase in total energy investment through 2040 would see premature deaths from outdoor air pollution decline by 1.7 million in 2040 compared with the main scenario, and 1.6 million annually from household pollution.

Proven policies are vital, especially as it pertains to emerging economies and third world countries. Better access to clean cooking facilities to an additional 1.8 billion people could see dramatic improvements in household air pollution levels, while emissions controls and fuel switching are crucial for the global power sector, as is increasing energy efficiency in industry and emissions standards for road transport.

“We need to revise our approach to energy development so that communities are not forced to sacrifice clean air in return for economic growth,” continued Dr. Birol. “Implementing the IEA strategy in the Clean Air Scenario can push energy-related pollution levels into a steep decline in all countries. It can also deliver universal access to modern energy, a rapid peak and decline in global greenhouse-gas emissions and lower fossil-fuel import bills in many countries.”

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