The burning of fossil fuels (coal, petrol, diesel, and wood) is a major source of airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and a key contributor to the global burden of premature mortality and disease. Global Burden of Disease (GBD) reports only the health impacts of total PM2.5 and does not distinguish mortality from fossil-fuel derived PM2.5 and that from other kinds of PM2.5, including dust, wildfire smoke, and biogenically-sourced particles.
Research from Harvard University, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester, and University College London looks at premature deaths due to PM2.5 caused by fossil fuel.
More than 8 million people may have died prematurely in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution (95% confidence interval: between -47,1 million to 17,0 million), significantly higher than previous research suggested. For Europe, the estimate is 1,5 million premature deaths (95% confidence interval: 0,9 million to 1,9 million). Researchers estimated that exposure to particulate matter from fossil fuel emissions might have accounted for 18 percent of total global premature deaths in 2018; a little less than 1 out of 5. Young children being especially vulnerable.
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 premature mortality, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Research.
According to the researchers, fossil fuel combustion can be more readily controlled than other sources and precursors of PM2.5 such as dust or wildfire smoke, so this is a clear message to policymakers and stakeholders to further incentivize a shift to clean sources of energy.
Source: Vohra, K., Vodonos, A., Schwartz, J., Marais, E.A., Sulprizio, M.P., Mickley, L.J., Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion: Results from GEOS-Chem, Environmental Research, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2021.110754