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Air Pollution Shorting Lives in China, Europe


Also causing climate change and damaging crops

Prime target for sustainable development, climate protection

Washington DC, July 10, 2013 – A new study finds that air pollution during the 90’s caused the combined loss of more than 2.5 billion years of life for the 500 million residents of Northern China. The study, published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences, found that residents in Southern China lived an average of five years longer than those in Northern China due to the health impacts of air pollution linked to the widespread use of coal for cooking and heating.

Another study released last week by the World Health Organization’s regional office for Europe warned that more than 80% of Europeans live in areas with particulate matter air pollution higher than WHO air quality guidelines. The study estimates that exposure to air pollution reduces the average life expectancy of Europeans by almost 9 months.

According to the WHO 2010 Global Burden of Disease study indoor air pollution is the fourth leading global risk factor for death, putting air pollution behind poor diet and high blood pressure and about the same as tobacco smoke as a preventable risk for early mortality globally. Outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, nearly 40% of the global total. The study calculated that indoor and outdoor air pollution together are responsible for more than six million deaths annually, including 3.5 million from household air pollution from burning solid fuels such as coal, and 3.1 million from ambient particulate matter pollution.

“Reducing air pollution, including black carbon soot pollution, can save millions of lives a year, reduce crop losses significantly, and cut the rate of global warming in half and the rate of warming in the Arctic by two-thirds over the next few decades,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “With this combination of benefits—healthier citizens, higher crop yields, and half the rate of climate change—reducing air pollutants should be a top priority for sustainable development and climate protection.”

Black carbon soot, which is one of a group of four climate pollutants known collectively as short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), due to their relatively short atmospheric lifetimes, is the second leading cause of global warming behind CO2. The other three SLCPs are methane, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. Fast action to reduce SLCPs has the potential to cut the rate of climate change in half, slowing global temperature rise by up to ~0.6°C by 2050 and 1.3°C by 2100, while preventing 2.4 million air pollution-related deaths per year, and avoiding around 30 million tonnes of crop losses annually.

Due to the heightened effects of black carbon and tropospheric ozone near their emissions sources, these benefits, including much of the climate mitigation benefits, are enjoyed largely by the regions making the cuts. For example, eliminating emissions of black carbon from traditional solid biomass stoves with improved cook stoves would have a major impact in reducing black carbon direct climate effects over South Asia (by about 60%).

The US-China Climate Change Task Force announced today a new initiative to reduce air pollution from trucks and other vehicles, including black carbon, along with other initiatives to address other short-lived climate pollutants as well as carbon dioxide, a long-lived climate pollutant responsible for half of climate change.


The China study is here; WHO study is here.

The Global Burden of Disease study is here; IGSD’s Primer on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants is here.

The US-China Climate Change Task Force Fact Sheet is here.