Global air pollution crisis: Fossil fuels linked to 5 million deaths a year

Smog hangs over Cape Town harbour. File Picture: Leon Lestrade / Independent Newspapers

Smog hangs over Cape Town harbour. File Picture: Leon Lestrade / Independent Newspapers

Published Dec 7, 2023


A groundbreaking study published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has laid bare the devastating impact of global air pollution, revealing that fossil fuel use contributes to a staggering 5 million deaths annually.

Graphic: Graphic News

The results, marking the largest study of its kind, has implications for ongoing climate discussions at COP28, where leaders continue to deliberate on crucial decisions including the much-anticipated gradual phasing-out of fossil fuels.

An international team of researchers from the UK, US, Germany, Spain and Cyprus collaborated on the study. The analysis included data from the Global Burden of Disease 2019 study and observational fine particulate matter and population data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The study estimates that 61% of over 8 million deaths worldwide from outdoor air pollution are attributed to fossil fuels. The study asserts that the global death toll of 5 million annually, resulting from the use of fossil fuels in industry, power generation, and transportation, is much higher than commonly reported.

The regions which experienced the largest number of estimated deaths, 2.19 million, caused by fossil fuel-related air pollution was Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania with the North Africa and Middle East regions tying with Sub-Saharan Africa for the least number of estimated deaths at 160,000 each.

The study's authors concluded that “a global phase-out of fossil fuels could yield substantial health benefits, surpassing previous estimations. By aligning with the United Nations' sustainable development goals for 2030 and the goal of climate neutrality by 2050, the replacement of fossil fuels with clean, renewable sources could significantly improve public health.”

IOL Environment