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The cost of air pollution

The health and economic costs of air pollution are high. Greenpeace uses IQAir AirVisual air quality data to calculate in real time just how much air pollution costs 25 global cities.

On a particularly smoggy day, it’s not hard to imagine that the health impact of air pollution is high. What most also don’t realise is that the economic impact of air pollution is high as well.

But you don’t need to imagine what the costs are: the answer is available right now. 

Thanks to a partnership between IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the health and economic costs of air pollution in 28 major cities are now available to anyone who wants to know.  

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Created by Greenpeace Southeast Asia based on IQAir data.

The Cost of Air Pollution Counter provides an estimation of what air pollution costs the world’s top five most populous cities from January 1 to June 30 in 2020:1

  1. Tokyo, Japan: 29,000 deaths, $31 billion USD (population: 37,400,000)
  2. Delhi, India: 24,000 deaths, $3.5 billion USD (population: 29,400,000)
  3. Shanghai, China: 27,000 deaths, $13 billion USD (population: 27,100,000)
  4. Sao Paulo, Brazil: 7,300 deaths, $3.5 billion USD (population: 22,000,000)
  5. Mexico City, Mexico: 11,000 deaths, $5.5 billion USD (population: 21,800,000)

Total Deaths: 98,300
Total Cost: $56.5 billion USD

That’s nearly 100,000 lives lives and 57 billion US dollars lost in the first half of 2020 – in only five cities. And those five cities represent only 1.7% of the world population.2

In the top five most populous cities alone, air pollution caused 98,300 deaths and cost $56.5 billion during a six-month period – and those five cities represent only 1.7% of the world population.

When it comes to fighting against air pollution, knowledge is power. Data on how many lives and dollars are lost is one of the most powerful tools we to hold polluters and policy makers to account and to change the air pollution story forever.

The real cost of air pollution

In mere months, major cities around the world have lost tens of thousands of lives and well into the tens of billions of dollars in economic productivity. 

Try to imagine what those numbers look like for a world of nearly 8 billion people. It leaves us heavy-hearted. That’s why IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace Southeast Asia partnered to produce the Cost of Air Pollution Counter. 

Powered by data from the IQAir AirVisual air quality data platform, the Cost of Air Pollution Counter tracks the amount of lives lost and economic productivity (as calculated in gross domestic product, or GDP) in real time as of the beginning of the calendar year. 

The counter’s algorithm combines real-time measurement data of ground-level air quality managed by the IQAir AirVisual air quality database with scientific risk models as well as population and health data to estimate how costly air pollution from PM2.5 and NO2 has been since January 1, 2020.

Mortality and cost estimates are based on the total impact attributable to PM2.5 and NO2 over the preceding 365 days, apportioned day by day according to daily recorded pollutant levels. Inclusion of NO2 is dependent on data availability.

The Cost of Air Pollution Counter algorithm combines real-time air quality data from IQAir AirVisual with scientific risk models as well as population and health data to estimate the costs of air pollution due to PM2.5 and NO2 since January 1, 2020.

The Cost of Air Pollution Counter automatically calculates cost data for 28 of the world’s major cities, many of which regularly appear on IQAir AirVisual’s Most Polluted Cities ranking:

  1. Algiers, Algeria
  2. Bangkok, Thailand
  3. Beijing, China
  4. Berlin, Germany
  5. Canberra, Australia
  6. Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  7. Guangzhou, China
  8. Hong Kong
  9. Istanbul, Turkey
  10. Jakarta, Indonesia
  11. Johannesburg, South Africa
  12. London, United Kingdom
  13. Los Angeles, United States
  14. Madrid, Spain
  15. Mexico City, Mexico
  16. Moscow, Russia
  17. Mumbai, India
  18. Nairobi, Kenya
  19. Delhi, India
  20. New York, United States
  21. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  22. Seoul, South Korea
  23. Shanghai, China
  24. Sydney, Australia
  25. São Paulo, Brazil
  26. Taipei, Taiwan
  27. Tokyo, Japan
  28. Toronto, Canada

The Cost of Air Pollution Counter uses the same methodology as a 2020 report by Greenpeace that calculated shocking estimates of the costs of using of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas:3 

  • 4.5 million premature deaths each year due to air pollution from fossil fuels
  • US $8 billion (3.3% of the world’s total GDP) lost each day from reduced life expectancy, premature birth, illnesses that result in hospital visits and missed work, and financial burdens resulting from illnesses
  • 40,000 deaths of children under five every year from PM2.5 exposure from fossil fuels
  • 1.8 billion days of work lost from illnesses related to PM2.5from fossil fuels, resulting in economic losses of US$101 billion  
Fossil fuels cause 4.5 million premature deaths each year, cost $8 billion every day, cause 40,000 deaths of children younger than 5, and resulted in 1.8 billion days of work lost from illnesses related to PM2.5.

The cost of reducing air pollution

The cost of reducing air pollution by switching from polluting fuels like coal, oil, and gas to zero-emissions alternative energy sources like wind and solar may seem high. But the health costs and economic costs of air pollution are clearly much higher – and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are actually increasingly cheaper than polluting fossil fuels.4

The cost of reducing air pollution may seem high. But the health costs and economic costs of air pollution are clearly much higher.

If nothing changes, the costs will continue to mount as the world population grows and climate change poses new risks that will make global capitalism in its current form untenable.

The solutions to the global air pollution problem are in front of us.

Renewable energy applications like wind farms and solar panels have already experienced immense growth and investment over the past decade.

In the U.S. alone, renewable energy use has grown by 100% since 2000, comprising 17% of net electricity use in 2018.5 Furthermore, renewable energy is projected to grow by at least another 5% by the end of 2020.6

This means that we are moving in the right direction, but still have a long way to go.

Click here for information about global air pollution from Greenpeace.
Click here for information about air pollution in Israel from Greenpeace.
Click here for information about air pollution in India from Greenpeace.

Article Resources

[1] 2018 Revision of world urbanization prospects. (2018). https://population.un.org/wup/ 

[2] World population prospects 2019. (2019). https://population.un.org/wpp/ 

[3] Greenpeace Southeast Asia. (2020). Toxic air: The price of fossil fuels (full report). https://www.greenpeace.org/southeastasia/publication/3603/toxic-air-the-price-of-fossil-fuels-full-report/ 

[4] Eckhouse B. (2020, April 29). Solar and wind cheapest sources of power in most of the world. https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/solar-and-wind-cheapest-sources-of-power-in-most-of-the-world 

[5] Renewable energy. (2019). https://www.c2es.org/content/renewable-energy/#:~:text=Renewable%20energy%20is%20the%20fastest,wind%20power%20(6.6%20percent). 

[6] Global energy review 2020: The impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on global energy demand and CO2 emissions. (2020). https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2020/renewables 

 

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