Air pollution derived from fossil fuel power plants caused over 8 million deaths in 2018, corresponding to 18% of overall deaths worldwide, according to new research from Harvard University, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London on Tuesday.
The research titled Global Mortality From Outdoor Fine Particle Pollution Generated by Fossil Fuel Combustion showed that deaths from fossil fuels are significantly higher than previously thought.
Regions with the highest concentrations of fossil fuel-related air pollution include Eastern North America, Europe and Southeast Asia, which also have the highest rates of mortality, according to the study.
The researchers found that globally, exposure to particulate matter from fossil fuel emissions accounted for 21.5% of total deaths in 2012, falling to 18% in 2018 due to tightening air quality measures in China.
"Often, when we discuss the dangers of fossil fuel combustion, it’s in the context of CO2 and climate change and overlook the potential health impact of the pollutants co-emitted with greenhouse gases,” Joel Schwartz, a professor of Environmental Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) said.
"We hope that by quantifying the health consequences of fossil fuel combustion, we can send a clear message to policymakers and stakeholders of the benefits of a transition to alternative energy sources," Schwartz said.
The burning of fossil fuels, especially coal, petrol, and diesel, is a major source of airborne particulate matter (PM) and ground-level ozone, which have both been implicated as key contributors to the global burden of mortality and disease, the study pointed out.
The effects of CO2-driven climate change on human health and welfare are complex, ranging from a greater incidence of extreme weather events, more frequent storm-surge flooding, and increased risk of crop failure, the study warned.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya