The UN recently outlined its development goals for 2030 at a conference in Olso, where Director General of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization Kandeh Yumkella stated that air pollution is a bigger killer than AIDS and malaria combined. He went on to say that the transition towards cleaner energy sources could cut this death toll 50% by 2030.
In his speech, Yumkella said that most air pollution victims suffered from indoor pollution caused by wood fires and primitive stoves in developing nations, and the issue primarily affects women and children. However he added that investments in solar, wind or hydropower in these countries could halve these premature deaths. The startling results came from a 2012 World Health Organization (WHO) study, which revealed that 3.5 million people die each year from indoor air pollution, while 3.3 million died from outdoor air pollution.
Speaking to Reuters, Maria Neira, the WHO’s director of public health and environment said, “The problem has been underestimated in the past”, highlighting the current crises in Beijing and Mexico city. She added that the figures reflected better measurements and changes in methods, such as including heart problems linked to pollutants. “Still, it means more than 6 million deaths every year caused by air pollution,” she said. “The horrible thing is that this will be growing” because of the rising use of fossil fuels.
In comparison to the six million deaths caused by air pollution, in 2011 there were about 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths and 660,000 malaria fatalities in 2010.
“If we increase access to clean energy … the health benefits will be enormous. Maybe the health argument was not used enough,” Neira said. With renewable energy output growing year upon year, the UN has updated its 2030 targets for universal access to energy, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and doubling the share of renewable energy in global consumption.