In countries where air pollution levels are below the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO), people lose an average of 2.2 years of their lives.
In northern India, 480 million people inhale pollution levels more than 10 times higher than those elsewhere on the planet. In some parts of this region, including the cities of Delhi and Kolkata, residents can, on average, lose up to nine years of their lives if the pollution levels documented in 2019 persist.
The index calculates lost years based on what life expectancy would be if a country complied with WHO guidelines set by the WHO.
The top five countries with the highest average number of lost years were all in Asia. After India came Bangladesh, where the population loses an average of 5.4 years of life, followed by Nepal (5 years), Pakistan (3.9 years) and Singapore (3.8 years).
The report’s authors said air pollution was primarily driven by the use and production of fossil fuels, creating “a global problem that requires strong policies on all fronts.”
The study also points to how the world has enjoyed cleaner skies and air as the pandemic forced a break on air travel and reduced road traffic and manufacturing. But at the same time, some parts of the world experienced high air pollution from wildfires, exacerbated by warmer and drier weather conditions. In the United States, smog traveled from relentless wildfires in some western states across the country, affecting air quality as far away as New York City.
“These remarkable events illustrate that air pollution is not only a global challenge but also intertwined with climate change. Both challenges are primarily due to the same sin: fossil fuel emissions from power plants, vehicles and other industrial sources,” the report said. . It called on world governments to quickly implement policies to reduce its dependence on fuels such as coal, oil and gas.
“The Air Quality Life Index shows that strong pollution policies pay back in further years of life for people around the world.”
World leaders will gather in the Scottish city of Glasgow in November for international climate negotiations, known as COP26, and putting an end date for “undiminished coal” is high on the agenda. Some fossil fuel companies argue for their future by “capturing” enough of the greenhouse gases from their fuels to prevent them from entering the atmosphere and causing air pollution and climate change.
Asia’s megacities in danger
Drilling down to urban levels, people in Asian megacities suffer some of the highest levels of pollution, and with them the biggest impacts on life expectancy.
For example, in the Indonesian city of Bandung, people lose an average of almost seven years of their lives, and in the country’s capital, Jakarta, it is almost six years.
In Central and West Africa, the harmful effects of air pollution on life expectancy were “comparable to known threats such as HIV / AIDS and malaria”, the report found.
And more than half of the 611 million people living in Latin America are exposed to air pollution levels that exceed WHO guidelines. Across the region, air pollution reduces life expectancy by an average of five months on average, but it varies greatly by location. In the Peruvian capital, Lima, people can expect to lose an average of 4.7 years outside of their lives.
China ‘war on pollution’
However, there is a reason for hope. China was in the five most polluted countries every year from 1998 to 2016. But since the beginning of its so-called “war on pollution” in 2013, it has reduced its particulate pollution by 29% – which accounts for three quarters of air pollution reductions worldwide .
This reduction – if maintained – has regained 1.5 years of life for the Chinese and brought them down to an average loss of 2.6 years.
“To put China’s success in context, it took decades and recessions for the United States and Europe to achieve the same pollution reductions that China was able to achieve in six years,” the report said.
There was, in fact, a time when London was widely referred to as “the big smoke” for its dirty air, and Los Angeles was once “the smog capital of the world.”
Today, Americans are exposed to an average of 62% less particulate matter pollution than in 1970. Similarly, Europeans are exposed to an average of 27% less than two decades ago – and get four months of life because of it, the report says.
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