New research from Harvard University suggests the death count from fossil fuel pollution is significantly higher than previously thought.
The study concluded that over 8 million people have died from exposure to fossil fuel emissions. In 2018, these deaths accounted for 18 percent of the total global death count – affecting a little less than one out of five people.
That figure dwarfs the most recent estimate from the Global Burden of Disease Study, the largest and most comprehensive study on the causes of global mortality. That put the total number of deaths from all outdoor airborne particulate matter — including dust and smoke from wildfires and agricultural burns — at 4.2 million.
According to Environmental Research, regions with the highest concentration of fossil fuel pollution also have the highest mortality rates. These regions include North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
Using data from China, researchers examined the significant decrease in fossil fuel emissions from 2012 to 2018. It is estimated that 1.5 million lives in China were saved when the country had cut its emission by half. Globally, it is estimated to have saved 2.4 million lives.
“We can’t in good conscience continue to rely on fossil fuels, when we know that there are such severe effects on health and viable, cleaner alternatives,” Eloise Marais, associate professor at the University College London, said.
Evidence on fossil fuels and their effects on global health continues to grow as higher mortality rates have been linked to long-term exposure to fossil fuel emissions.