Air pollution is now identified as one of the world's biggest killers, yet the relative contribution of different kinds of emissions has until now been hard to calculate.
Air pollution-related Deaths in China and India
However, after putting together data from numerous atmospheric chemistry models and satellite-derived emissions evaluation, scientists have now come to a conclusion that 1.05 million deaths were due to fossil fuel combustion in 2017, with coal responsible for over half of this figure.
Given that the highest number of air pollution-related deaths happened in China and India, the study authors calculate that getting rid of coal and oil and natural gas combustion in both countries could reduce the universal death rate from fossil fuel emissions by 20 percent.
Presenting their discoveries in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists note that "approximately 1 million deaths could be prevented by the global elimination of fossil-fuel combustion, with 20% of this burden linked with the use of fossil-fuel in China and India alone."
The study authors made use of updated emissions datasets in order to calculate the level of microscopic particles referred to as PM2.5 in 204 countries all over the world.
Measuring below 2.5 micrometers, these particles have the ability to make their way into the lungs and cardiovascular system of humans, bringing about respiratory and heart illnesses.
Overall, the team discovered that the burning of fossil fuels was responsible for 27.3 percent of all deaths that are PM2.5-related in 2017, while the use of solid biofuels, like wood and charcoal, added another 20 percent.
Researchers wrote: "The use of solid biofuel was a major source of emissions from the residential sector and was the dominant contributing combustible fuel in 78 countries, mostly all around the tropics."
Normally used for heating and cooking in residential settings, biofuel combustion was found to be responsible for up to 40 percent of the PM2.5 disease burden in countries like Nepal, Guatemala, and Rwanda.
Health Impact of PM2.5
Universally, residential emissions caused 740,000 deaths in 2017, while air pollution produced by the industrial and energy sectors led to 450,000 and 390,000 deaths, respectively. Agriculture and transport, meanwhile, both contributed approximately eight percent of global PM2.5 deaths.
To carry out their research, the study authors merged their enhanced global emissions data with the Global Burden of Disease, thereby achieving an unprecedented level of detail on the health impact of PM2.5 in various places all over the world.
Study author Randall Martin explained in a statement: "PM2.5 is the leading environmental risk factor for mortality in the world. Our primary objective is to understand its sources." Doing so will enable researchers and policymakers to develop targeted mitigation approaches for the reduction of air pollution across various regions, thereby providing a roadmap to a more healthy environment and minimal deaths.
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