The air quality improvements associated with a global effort to keep average global warming at 1.5°C would prevent up to 153 million premature deaths per year by 2100, with improvements on every inhabited continent and the greatest gains in Asia and Africa, according to a Duke University study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.
“The benefit would be felt mostly in Asian countries with dirty air—13 million lives would be saved in large cities in India alone, including the metropolitan areas of Kolkata, Delhi, Patna, and Kanpur,” the Washington Post reports. “Greater Dhaka in Bangladesh would have 3.6 million fewer deaths, and Jakarta in Indonesia would record 1.6 million fewer lives lost. The African cities of Lagos and Cairo combined would register more than 2 million fewer deaths.”
In the U.S., metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, and Washington would each see more than 330,000 premature deaths prevented.
“Americans don’t really grasp how pollution impacts their lives,” said Earth scientist and lead author Drew Shindell. “You say, ‘My uncle went to the hospital and died of a heart attack.’ You don’t say the heart attack was caused by air pollution, so we don’t know. It’s still a big killer here. It’s much bigger than from people who die from plane crashes or war or terrorism, but we don’t see the link so clearly.”
The researchers ran three scenarios in which they simulated future emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, like ozone and particulate matter, that affect respiratory health. Then the team “calculated the human health impacts of pollution exposure under each scenario all over the world—but focusing on results in major cities—using well-established epidemiological models based on decades of public health data on air pollution-related deaths,” according to a statement announcing the publication.
“The models calculated about seven million deaths per year if governments fail to work toward zero emissions by the end of the century, starting today,” the Post states.
“There’s got to be a significant amount of progress within the 2020s or it’s too late,” Shindell said. “We should have doctors and public health professionals weigh into this. We don’t have the understanding of how people are impacted.”