Energy Agency Totals Annual Death Toll from Air Pollution at 6.5 Million

The study by the Paris-based International Energy Agency finds a direct connection to the energy industry. Credit goes to IEA executive director Fatih Birol for expanding the organization's mission beyond its traditional purpose, energy security.
June 29, 2016, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"A sobering report released on Monday by the International Energy Agency says air pollution has become a major public health crisis leading to around 6.5 million deaths each year, with 'many of its root causes and cures' found in the energy industry," writes Stanley Reed, energy reporter for The New York Times.

The air pollution study is the first for the agency, an energy security group based in Paris, which is expanding its mission under its executive director, Fatih Birol.

Reed's article is mainly oriented toward the IEA, "founded in response to the Arab oil embargo in 1973 to coordinate international responses to energy issues...often seen as having an agenda rivaling [OPEC's]."

The agency has 29 member countries who are "net oil importers" and must have an appropriate amount of crude oil reserves. They must also be members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), thus labeled as "wealthy, industrialized countries."  

China and India are not members, but the study is in many ways targeted toward them.

Mr. Birol, an economist, argues that pressing concerns about climate change and the emergence of countries like China and India as major energy consumers and polluters mean that the agency needs to shift its strategy.

“To stay relevant,” he said in an interview on Friday, we “need to work much closer with new emerging energy economies.”

Mr. Birol has been working to build bridges with China in particular, which energy experts say is crucial to the success of global efforts to reduce emissions.

According to the report's executive summary, "Energy production and use are by far the largest man-made sources of air pollutants.

The press release indicates bad news in terms of outdoor air pollution and improvement in reducing mortality from indoor air pollution.

No country is immune as a staggering 80% of the population living in cities that monitor pollution levels are breathing air that fails to meet the air quality standards set by the World Health Organization.

Premature deaths from outdoor air pollution are projected to rise from 3 million today to 4.5 million by 2040, concentrated mainly in developing Asia.

Meanwhile, premature deaths from household air pollution will decline from 3.5 million to 3 million over the same period, although they continue to be heavily linked to poverty and an inability to access modern energy.

Either there's been an improvement in air quality or the study has underestimated mortality. In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that 7 million die annually from air pollution.

In any case, solutions should not be that costly. 

"Mr. Birol said that through relatively low-cost actions, like adopting more ambitious clean air standards and more effective policies for monitoring and enforcement, countries could make major strides in reducing pollution over the next quarter-century," writes Reed.

See "Energy and Air Pollution 2016 - World Energy Outlook Special Report" to access executive summary, press release, and full report.

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Published on Sunday, June 26, 2016 in The New York Times - Energy & Environment
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