Jakarta, Indonesia, 18 February – PM2.5 air pollution was behind approximately 160,000 deaths in the world’s five most populous cities in 2020, according to a Greenpeace Southeast Asia analysis of IQAir data from a live Cost Estimator.1,2 While some cities saw small improvements in air quality as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, the devastating impact of air pollution underscores the need to rapidly scale up clean energy, build electrified, accessible transport systems and end reliance on fossil fuels.
“When governments choose coal, oil and gas over clean energy, it’s our health that pays the price. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels increases our likelihood of dying from cancer or stroke, suffering asthma attacks and of experiencing severe COVID-19. We can’t afford to keep breathing dirty air when the solutions to air pollution are widely available and affordable,” said Avinash Chanchal, climate campaigner at Greenpeace India.
Delhi sustained an estimated 54,000 avoidable deaths due to PM2.5 air pollution in 2020, or one death per 500 people. Jakarta suffered an estimated 13,000 avoidable deaths due to PM2.5 air pollution in 2020 and sustained air pollution-related losses of USD 3.4 billion, equivalent to 8.2% of the city’s total GDP.
In 2020, the estimated economic cost of PM2.5 air pollution exceeded USD 5 billion in 14 cities included in the analysis. Of the included cities, the highest estimated total financial cost from air pollution was recorded in Tokyo, which suffered approximately 40,000 avoidable deaths and an economic loss of USD 43 billion due to PM2.5 air pollution in 2020. Los Angeles recorded the highest per capita financial cost of PM2.5 air pollution of all cities on the estimator, at approximately USD 2,700 per resident.
Estimated air pollution impacts in the world’s five biggest cities (2020)
||Estimated Cost (USD)
Greenpeace urges that governments at all levels invest in renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, and clean-energy powered, accessible public transport to protect residents from lethal air pollution.
“Breathing should not be deadly. The fact that poor air quality claimed an estimated 160,000 lives in the five largest cities alone should give us pause, especially in a year when many cities were seeing lower air pollution levels due to less economic activity. Governments, corporations and individuals must do more to eliminate the sources of air pollution and make our cities better places to live,” said Frank Hammes, CEO of IQAir.
“In most parts of the world it is now cheaper to build clean energy infrastructure than to continue investing in polluting fossil fuels, even before taking the cost of air pollution and climate change into account. As governments look to recover from the economic impact of COVID, they must create green jobs, build accessible, clean-energy powered public transport systems and invest in renewable energy sources like wind and solar. We demand a better normal, not only for the sake of our air, but also to address the flooding, heat waves and intensified storms that we’re experiencing as a result of climate change,” said Bondan Andriyanu, campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia.
 PM2.5 refers to fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Exposure to PM2.5 is considered the most important environmental risk factor for deaths globally, and was attributed to 4.2 million premature deaths in 2015.
 The Cost Estimator is based on a methodology developed by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. It uses real-time air quality data from IQAir, combined with scientific risk models, as well as population and health data, to track the health and economic impact of air pollution in real time. The Cost Estimator applies an algorithm to ground-level air quality data to calculate an estimated cost of air pollution from fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in cities around the world. Mortality and cost estimates are based on the total impact attributable to PM2.5 over a full year, where all such data are available. Year-to-date figures presented in the online tool are calculated by apportioning the annual costs accumulated over the preceding 365 days according to recorded pollutant levels during the year to date. Many air pollutants affect our health, but only PM2.5 pollution has been included, consequently the calculated numbers are likely to be an underestimation of the total cost of air pollution.
The counter builds on the methodology described in the 2020 “Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels” report by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), which compiled the latest scientific results on exposure-response relationships between air pollution and health outcomes, as well as the economic costs of health conditions that were linked to air pollution in scientific literature.
The full methodology is available here.