A new modeling study published by The BMJ reveals that the use of fossil fuels in industry, power generation, and transportation contributes to more than 5 million extra deaths globally each year due to air pollution. This accounts for 61% of the estimated 8.3 million deaths caused by ambient air pollution from all sources in 2019. The study suggests that replacing fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources could potentially prevent these deaths.
The findings of this study indicate that the impact of fossil fuel-related deaths is greater than previously believed. While ambient air pollution is recognized as a leading environmental health risk factor, it is challenging to attribute deaths to specific air pollution sources. However, this study offers new insights by utilizing a model to estimate the number of deaths associated with fossil fuel-related air pollution and to assess the potential health benefits of transitioning to renewable energy.
The research team used data from the Global Burden of Disease 2019 study, NASA satellite data on fine particulate matter, population data, and atmospheric chemistry, aerosol, and relative risk modeling to estimate excess deaths from fossil fuel-related air pollution in four scenarios. These scenarios ranged from phasing out all fossil fuel-related emissions to a 50% reduction in exposure towards a fossil fuel phase-out.
The results show that in 2019, 5.1 million out of 8.3 million deaths worldwide from ambient air pollution were linked to fossil fuels. The most significant number of deaths attributable to fossil fuels occurred in South and East Asia, particularly in China and India. Common conditions such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive lung disease, and diabetes accounted for the majority of deaths, while around 20% were undefined but likely linked to high blood pressure and neurodegenerative disorders.
Phasing out fossil fuel use would have the most significant impact on reducing deaths in South, South East, and East Asia, preventing approximately 3.85 million deaths annually. High-income countries heavily reliant on fossil fuels could prevent around 460,000 deaths per year by transitioning to renewable energy sources. The study acknowledges some uncertainty but highlights the potential public health and climate co-benefits of replacing fossil fuels.
In a linked editorial, researchers from Finland and Norway emphasize that phasing out fossil fuels would not only save lives but also improve air quality, leading to healthier populations and reduced burden on healthcare systems. They urge leaders to commit to an accelerated, just, and equitable phase-out of fossil fuels at the upcoming COP28 climate change negotiations in the UAE. They also emphasize the need to explore the effects of alternative technologies in further research.
The study underscores the importance of recognizing the health benefits of transitioning away from fossil fuels alongside the climate benefits. As nations gather for COP28, the researchers hope that the focus on public health and the reduction of fossil fuel use will be prioritized in shaping discussions and commitments toward a sustainable future.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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