More than 8 million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution, significantly higher than previous research suggested, according to new research from Harvard University, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London. Researchers estimated that exposure to particulate matter from fossil fuel emissions accounted for 18 percent of total global deaths in 2018 — a little less than 1 out of 5.
Regions with the highest concentrations of fossil fuel-related air pollution — including Eastern North America, Europe, and South-East Asia — have the highest rates of mortality, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Research.
The study greatly increases estimates of the numbers killed by air pollution. The most recent Global Burden of Disease Study, the largest and most comprehensive study on the causes of global mortality, put the total number of global deaths from all outdoor airborne particulate matter — including dust and smoke from wildfires and agricultural burns — at 4.2 million.
Researchers used a global 3-D model to map known emission sources and compare mortality rates. The study used data from 2012, and compared it with data in 2018, when China had said it would cut fossil fuel emissions in half.
“We were initially very hesitant when we obtained the results because they are astounding, but we are discovering more and more about the impact of this pollution,” study co-author Eloise Marais, told the media.
“Our study adds to the mounting evidence that air pollution from ongoing dependence on fossil fuels is detrimental to global health. “We can’t in good conscience continue to rely on fossil fuels, when we know that there are such severe effects on health and viable, cleaner alternatives,” Marais added.