Reducing global air pollution through renewable energies can prevent millions of premature deaths according to an international team of scientists, led by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.
The most significant contribution would be the rapid phasing out of fossil fuels, which is currently being discussed mainly to abate climate change. The researchers used a global atmospheric chemistry and climate model, linked to the latest estimates of health effects in order to study the combined impact of decarbonisation on public health, precipitation and the climate.
Fossil fuel generated emissions are responsible for about 65 percent of premature deaths from human-made air pollutants worldwide. Polluted air significantly elevates the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
According to Prof. Richard Burnett of Health Canada, co-author of the study, it was recently found that the health burden of fine particulate matter is exceedingly high. Phasing out the use of fossil fuels would therefore prevent more than 3 million premature deaths annually worldwide.
“If all sources of air pollution from human activities could be eliminated, that number would further rise to more than 5 million per year”, adds Prof. Andy Haines from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who is also a co-author of the study.
The main implication of the study is that fossil fuel phase-out is a major opportunity not only to slow down climate change, but also to significantly improve the health of people from around the world.
Therefore, the scientists advocate a rapid shift from fossil to renewable energies: “Clean energy sources have the potential to save many lives,” adds Lelieveld.