Chicago, US | XINHUA | An analysis of data from the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) conducted by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) finds that particulate pollution cuts global life expectancy by nearly two years, relative to what it would be if air quality met the World Health Organization guideline.
Particulate pollution was the greatest risk to human health before COVID-19, said the analysis posted on the website of the University of Chicago on Thursday.
Working unseen inside the human body, particulate pollution has a more devastating impact on life expectancy than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, behavioral killers like cigarette smoking, and even war.
Nearly a quarter of the global population lives in four countries in South Asia that are among the world’s most polluted: Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. People living in these countries could see their lives cut short by five years on average, after being exposed to pollution levels that are now 44 percent higher than they were two decades ago.
Particulate pollution is also a significant concern in Southeast Asia, where traditional pollution sources such as vehicles, power plants and industry combined with forest and cropland fires to produce deadly concentrations. As a result, 89 percent of Southeast Asia’s 650 million people live in areas where particulate pollution exceeds the WHO guideline.
China started a “war against pollution” in 2013. Since then, three-quarters of the world’s reductions in pollution have come from China. It has reduced particulate pollution by nearly 40 percent. If these reductions are sustained, Chinese citizens can expect to live about two years longer than they would have prior to the reforms.
The United States, Europe and Japan have likewise experienced success in reducing pollution thanks to strong policies that came on the heels of public calls for change. The progression of their success, however, further highlights the scale and speed of China’s progress. It took several decades and recessions for the United States and Europe to achieve the same pollution reductions that China accomplished in five years while continuing to grow its economy.
“As countries today try to balance the dual goals of economic growth and environmental quality, the historical lesson from around the world is that policy can reduce air pollution in a wide variety of political contexts,” said Michael Greenstone, director of EPIC and a leading economist whose research has focused on environmental quality. “The AQLI makes clear that the benefits are measured in longer and healthier lives.”
Launched in 2018, the AQLI converts particulate air pollution into its impact on life expectancy.