Global | IEA report: Small increase in energy investment could halve air pollution deaths by 2040

Each year an estimated 6.5 million deaths are linked to air pollution, with the number set to increase significantly in coming decades unless the energy sector takes greater action to curb emissions, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

2016.06.30 IEA mortality rate

Source: IEA based on WHO data

In its first ever in-depth analysis of air quality, the IEA’s World Energy Outlook (WEO) special report highlights the links between energy, air pollution and health. It identifies contributions the energy sector can make to curb poor air quality, the fourth-largest threat to human health, after high blood pressure, poor diets, and smoking.

Energy production and use – mostly from unregulated, poorly regulated or inefficient fuel combustion – are the most important man-made sources of key air pollutant emissions: 85% of particulate matter and almost all of the sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides.

2016.06.30 IEA fig1.3

Source: IEA analysis based on IIASA data

According to the IEA’s analysis of existing and planned energy and air quality policies, premature deaths from outdoor air pollution are projected to rise from 3 million today to 4.5 million by 2040, concentrated mainly in developing Asia. Meanwhile, premature deaths from household air pollution will decline from 3.5 million to 3 million over the same period, although they continue to be heavily linked to poverty and an inability to access modern energy.

2016.06.30 IEA AP deaths 2040

Source: IEA

The report presents strategies tailored to various country circumstances to deliver cleaner air for all. The IEA’s proposed Clean Air Scenario demonstrates how energy policy choices backed by just a 7% increase in total energy investment through 2040 produce a sharp improvement in health. Under the Clean Air Scenario, premature deaths from outdoor air pollution would decline by 1.7 million in 2040 compared with the IEA’s main scenario, in which fossil fuel combustion increases steadily to help meet a one-third rise in global energy demand.

Source: IEA

Source: IEA

Aligned with its energy policy strategy for cleaner air, the WEO special report highlights three key areas for government action:

  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, regulation 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.

For more information, read the full report or executive summaries from the IEA, and view the IEA’s presentation to the press.

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