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 realize 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.
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
- Tokyo, Japan: 29,000 deaths, $31 billion USD (population: 37,400,000)
- Delhi, India: 24,000 deaths, $3.5 billion USD (population: 29,400,000)
- Shanghai, China: 27,000 deaths, $13 billion USD (population: 27,100,000)
- Sao Paulo, Brazil: 7,300 deaths, $3.5 billion USD (population: 22,000,000)
- 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:
- Algiers, Algeria
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Beijing, China
- Berlin, Germany
- Canberra, Australia
- Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- Guangzhou, China
- Hong Kong
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Jakarta, Indonesia
- Johannesburg, South Africa
- London, United Kingdom
- Los Angeles, United States
- Madrid, Spain
- Mexico City, Mexico
- Moscow, Russia
- Mumbai, India
- Nairobi, Kenya
- Delhi, India
- New York, United States
- Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- Seoul, South Korea
- Shanghai, China
- Sydney, Australia
- São Paulo, Brazil
- Taipei, Taiwan
- Tokyo, Japan
- 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.
 2018 Revision of world urbanization prospects. (2018).
 World population prospects 2019. (2019).
 Greenpeace Southeast Asia. (2020). Toxic air: The price of fossil fuels (full report).
 Eckhouse B. (2020, April 29). Solar and wind cheapest sources of power in most of the world.
 Renewable energy. (2019).
 Global energy review 2020: The impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on global energy demand and CO2 emissions. (2020).