Air pollution from fossil fuels linked to 5.1 million deaths a year worldwide

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Air pollution resulting from the use of fossil fuels in industry, power generation, and transportation is responsible for an estimated 5.1 million excess deaths annually worldwide, according to a new modeling study published in The BMJ.

This number represents 61% of the total estimated 8.3 million deaths attributed to outdoor (ambient) air pollution from all sources in 2019.

These findings suggest that transitioning away from fossil fuels and adopting clean, renewable energy sources could have a more significant impact on reducing mortality rates than previously thought.

Study Details

Ambient air pollution is a leading environmental health risk factor, associated with various diseases and deaths. However, attributing specific deaths to air pollution sources has been challenging.

To address this, an international research team used a new model to estimate deaths related to fossil fuel-related air pollution and to assess potential health benefits of replacing fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources.

The study considered four scenarios:

  1. Complete phase-out of all fossil fuel-related emission sources.
  2. A 25% reduction in exposure toward the fossil fuel phase-out.
  3. A 50% reduction in exposure toward the fossil fuel phase-out.
  4. Removal of all human-induced (anthropogenic) sources of air pollution, leaving only natural sources like desert dust and wildfires.

Key Findings

In 2019, 8.3 million deaths worldwide were attributed to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3) in ambient air, with 61% (5.1 million) linked to fossil fuels.

Most deaths occurred in South and East Asia, primarily China (2.44 million) and India (2.18 million).

Common conditions related to these deaths included ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive lung disease, and diabetes.

Phasing out fossil fuels could prevent around 3.85 million annual deaths in South, South East, and East Asia, equivalent to 80-85% of potentially preventable deaths from all anthropogenic sources of ambient air pollution in these regions.

High-income countries heavily reliant on fossil energy could prevent approximately 460,000 annual deaths, representing about 90% of potentially preventable deaths from all anthropogenic sources of ambient air pollution.


The study emphasizes the significant health benefits of transitioning away from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources.

The researchers acknowledge some uncertainty but stress that replacing fossil fuels would have substantial public health benefits alongside climate advantages.

They call on the forthcoming COP28 climate change negotiations to prioritize phasing out fossil fuels, considering the associated health benefits.

A linked editorial reinforces the importance of transitioning to clean energy sources for public health and calls for high-income countries to lead the way.

The authors urge country leaders to commit to an equitable phase-out of fossil fuels during COP28, recognizing the positive impact on both global health and the environment.

If you care about lung health, please read studies about why Viagra may be useful in treating lung diseases, and scientists find herbal supplements to treat lung cancer.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about gum disease linked to impaired lung function, and results showing COVID-19 is not just a respiratory illness, it can cause strokes too.

The research findings can be found in The BMJ.

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