Air pollution due to the use of fossil fuels is the cause of 4.5 million premature deaths every year worldwide, but also leads to global economic losses estimated at 2.9 billion dollars or 2.6 billion euros.
That means a cost of 8,000 million dollars a day (7,333 million euros) and is equivalent to 3.3% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), notes the report “Toxic Air: The price of fossil fuels”, prepared by Greenpeace and the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
The study is the first that evaluates the global economic impact of pollution by fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas mainly – by calculating the cost of these premature deaths so they stopped contributing to the economy, as well as the medical expenses of Treat the diseases they cause.
“Fossil fuels are not only the main trigger for climate change, they are also detrimental to our health and economy,” the representative of the Greenpeace division in Southeast Asia, Khevin Yu, said in the presentation of the report in Manila.
MILLIONS OF PREMATURE DEATH
The World Health Organization (WHO) already estimated two million deaths for breathing polluted air two years ago, but this new report focuses on the implications of pollution caused by fossil fuels, the main cause of these premature deaths, some 12,000 per day.
These pollutants carry diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, strokes and other medical conditions such as pulmonary obstructions or respiratory infections.
According to Greenpeace, 40,000 children die annually before they turn 5 due to exposure to pollutants such as PM2.5 particles, which measure 2.5 microns or less in diameter, so they reach the lungs and blood quickly, which It becomes highly harmful to health.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a byproduct of the combustion of fossil fuels in vehicles, factories and power plants, is linked to more than 4 million new cases of asthma in children each year, and about 16 million children throughout the world. world suffer from disease from exposure to those particles.
In addition to PM2.5 and NO2, another pollutant derived from the burning of fossil fuels is ozone, a natural gas present in small quantities in the upper layers of the atmosphere that protects from solar radiation, but high concentrations thereof at the level Soils are harmful to health.
In terms of productivity, 1.8 billion working days are lost every year in the world due to medical leave due to diseases caused by breathing toxic air, which translates into economic losses of 101,000 million dollars each year (92,500 million euros).
Exposure to fossil fuels – and in particular to PM2.5 particles that cause an asthma crisis – is behind 7.7 million emergency visits every year.
These harmful particles are also credited with up to 2 million premature births per year.
China is the country with the most premature deaths for that reason, around 1.8 million a year; followed by India (1 million), the European Union (400,000 deaths), the United States (230,000) and Japan (100,000).
China, with 900,000 million dollars annually, the US (600,000 million) and India (150,000 million) are the countries that bear the highest costs derived from air pollution caused by fossil fuels.
AFFORDABLE AND AVAILABLE SOLUTIONS
“While coal and oil companies and the automobile industry drive obsolete technologies, our health and our communities are paying the price,” the report warns, pointing out that although toxic air pollution is a “global threat,” the solutions They are “affordable and available.”
Greenpeace warns that in 2019 91% of the world’s population lived in areas where air pollution exceeds the levels recommended by WHO.
“Cleaner transport and the use of renewable energy not only mean a significant reduction of pollutants such as PM2.5, NO2 or ozone, but also help control climate change by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases,” they clarify.
The replacement of fossil fuels with clean energy could reduce the number of premature deaths related to pollution by two-thirds, says Greenpeace.
The implementation of greener cities – with little pollutant public transport, bike lanes and green areas for walking – will result in health benefits, not only by reducing these respiratory ailments, but also diabetes, obesity or cardiovascular diseases.
Research shows that the closure of coal-fired power plants can produce health benefits, with a decrease in associated medical expenses, which exceed the value of the electricity they generate.
Sara Gómez Armas