28 June 2016

To reduce deaths from air pollution, boost energy investment

Energy is the main contributor to air pollution that kills millions each year, but a 7% increase in energy investment could cut the death toll by as much as half by 2040, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), to which IIASA researchers contributed significantly.

© Mikhail Dudarev | Dreamstime.com

© Mikhail Dudarev | Dreamstime.com

The IEA’s World Energy Outlook (WEO) special report, released this week, is the agency’s ever in-depth analysis of air quality. It highlights the links between energy, air pollution, and health, and identifies contributions the energy sector can make to curb poor air quality, the fourth-largest threat to human health, after high blood pressure, poor diets, and smoking. 

IIASA researchers in the Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases Program contributed to the report by quantifying the air pollution and health impacts of projections of alternative energy policy interventions.  Their analysis relied on the Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollution Interactions and Synergies (GAINS) model

The report shows that energy production and use – mostly from unregulated, poorly regulated or inefficient fuel combustion – are the most important man-made sources of key air pollutant emissions: 85% of particulate matter and almost all of the sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides. Millions of tons of these pollutants are released into the atmosphere each year, from factories, power plants, cars, trucks, as well as the 2.7 billion people still relying on polluting stoves and fuels for cooking (mainly wood, charcoal and other biomass). 

In the central outlook of the WEO special report, growing attention to this issue and an accelerating energy transition post-COP21 puts global emissions of these pollutants on a slowly declining trend to 2040. However, the problem is far from solved and global changes mask strong regional differences: emissions continue to fall in industrialized countries. In China, recent signs of decline are consolidated. But emissions generally rise in India, Southeast Asia and Africa, as expected growth in energy demand dwarfs policy efforts related to air quality.

Energy-related particulate pollution (PM2.5) emissions by region and sector. Source: IEA analysis based on IIASA data.


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Last edited: 01 March 2017


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