Poor air quality causing 6.5 million deaths a year, says IEA report

New International Energy Agency report says investments in improving air quality provides benefits many times more valuable

A report released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA) says poor air quality is responsible for 6.5 million deaths each year with many of the root causes coming from the energy sector. In the report, Energy and Air Pollution, the IEA proposes a cost-effective strategy, based on existing technologies and proven policies, to cut pollutant emissions by more than half, and provides a suite of measures that can be adapted in tailored combinations to reflect different national and regional settings.

Energy production and use, mostly from unregulated, poorly regulated or inefficient fuel combustion, are the single most important man-made sources of air pollutant emissions but while practical and cost effective solutions exist, the problem is far from being solved. According to the report emissions show a declining trend in most of the industrialised world to 2040 and an onset of declines in China. This decline, however, is accompanied by modest growth in India and South East Asia and rapid growth in Africa

"This report brings a very important message to the energy community about the link between our energy systems and air pollution. Its projections about the impacts on health are sobering, but the report also shows how, with good policies, we can have both clean, healthy air and energy", says Mark Radka, Head of Energy Climate and Technology of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Helena Molin Valdes, Head of the “United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) hosted Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) welcomed the new report, saying practical measures and policies to reduce air pollution needs to be integrated across sectors and should be part of national development plans.

“This report reinforces the fact that investing in air pollution mitigation measures can provide benefits many times more valuable than the initial investment,” Ms Molin Valdes said. “At the CCAC we know that reducing short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon (soot), methane, and hydrofluorocarbons will save millions of lives, improve food security, and help keep global warming under 2⁰ Celsius. The strategies and measures proposed by this report contributes to the global effort to improve air quality and complements the efforts already underway.”

In the report the IEA proposes a Clean Air Scenario based on existing technologies and proven policies, to cut pollutant emissions by more than half. With only a 7% increase in total energy investment over the period to 2040, the Clean Air Scenario produces a sharp improvement in health: premature deaths from outdoor air pollution are 1.7 million lower in 2040 and, from household pollution, 1.6 million lower.

The report identifies three key areas for government action:

  • Setting an ambitious long-term air quality goal, to which all stakeholders can subscribe and against which the efficacy of the various pollution mitigation options can be assessed.
  • Putting in place a package of clean air policies for the energy sector to achieve the long-term goal, drawing on a cost-effective mix of direct emissions controls, regulation and other measures, giving due weight to the co-benefits for other energy policy objectives.
  • Ensuring effective monitoring, enforcement, evaluation and communication: keeping a strategy on course requires reliable data, a continuous focus on compliance and on policy improvement, and timely and transparent public information.

The IEA Clean Air Scenario outlines a suite of measures called ‘AIR’ that can be adapted in tailored combinations to reflect different national and regional settings:

  • Avoid pollutant emissions by providing energy services more efficiently or in a way that does not involve fuel combustion. Measures include higher efficiency standards, increased support to non-combustion renewable energy and alternatives to liquids fuels for transport, and improvements in public transport and urban planning.
  • Innovate to reduce pollution abatement costs via technology improvements that will also reduce costs for the post-Paris energy transition.
  • Reduce pollutant emissions to the atmosphere, via stringent emissions limits on combustion plants and vehicles, controls on industrial processes, fuel switching to less polluting fuels and strict regulation of fuel quality.

The report warns that Air pollution policy should not be viewed in isolation: it is closely linked not only to policies for energy, but also to those dealing with climate, transport, trade, agriculture, biodiversity and other issues.

Experts from UNEP and the CCAC participated in the consultations for the report.

Click here to download 'Energy and Air Pollution' report from the official IEA website.



The Climate and Clean Air Coalition is a voluntary global partnership of governments, intergovernmental organizations, businesses, scientific institutions and civil society committed to catalyzing concrete, substantial action to reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants (including methane, black carbon and many hydrofluorocarbons). The Coalition has 11 initiatives working to raise awareness, mobilize resources and lead transformative actions in key emitting and cross cutting sectors.

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