Air pollution to kill millions by 2040: Report

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LONDON: Premature deaths from air pollution will con­tinue to rise to 2040 unless changes are made to the way the world uses and produces energy, the International En­ergy Agency said today.

Around 6.5 million deaths globally are attributed each year to poor air quality inside and outside, making it the world’s fourth-largest threat to human health, behind high blood pressure, dietary risks and smoking.

Harmful pollutants such as particulate matter – which can contain acids, metals, soil and dust particles – sulfur ox­ides and nitrogen oxides, are responsible for the most wide­spread effects of air pollution.

Tiny particulate matter can cause lung cancer, strokes and heart disease over the long term, as well as trigger symp­toms such as heart attacks that kill more rapidly. The release of these pollutants is mainly due to the unregulated or inef­ficient production and use of energy, the IEA said in a spe­cial report on energy and air pollution.

Without action, premature deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution will increase to 4.5 million in 2040 from around 3 million currently. Premature deaths due to household air pollution however, should fall to 2.9 million from 3.5 million.

Asia will account for al­most 90 percent of the rise in deaths. Even though global emissions are forecast to de­cline overall to 2040, existing and planned energy policies will not be enough to improve air quality, the report said.

“Without changes to the way that the world produces and uses energy, the ruinous toll from air pollution on human life is set to rise,” the IEA said. Harmful greenhouse gas emis­sions should continue to fall in industrialised countries and recent signs of decline in China should continue, but emissions are set to rise in India, south­east Asia and Africa as energy demand growth dwarfs efforts to improve air quality.

New energy and air qual­ity policies can deliver cleaner air, however, such as access to clean cook stoves and fuels to replace inefficient biomass stoves; strictly enforced emis­sions standards for road trans­port; controlling emissions and switching fuels in the power sector and more energy efficiency in industry.

These measures could en­sure global emissions of partic­ulate matter fall by 7 percent, sulfur dioxide by 20 percent and nitrogen oxides by 10 per­cent to 2040. As a result, prema­ture deaths from outdoor pollu­tion would fall to 2.8 million in 2040 and from household air pollution to 1.3 million, the re­port said.

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