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Clean air in numbers

  • Outdoor air pollution causes over 4.2 million deaths every year
  • That means every minute, one child and 12 adults die of illness caused by air pollution
  • This is 7% of all deaths globally. It is more than the deaths from tuberculosis, HIV/Aids and malaria combined (chart)
  • Air pollution is the 5th highest risk factor for early death globally
  • Air pollution affects all regions of the world. 91% of the world’s population breathes unhealthy air
  • People in cities are most effected: More than 80% of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the WHO guidelines
  • The poorest are always hardest hit. According to the latest air quality database, 97% of cities in low- and middle- income countries do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. In high-income countries, that percentage decreases to 49%

There are 5 main causes of outdoor air pollution from humans:

  • Power generation –Burning fossil fuels is the biggest source of outdoor air pollution and much of those are burned to make electricity. Coal burning power plants are a major contributor and diesel generators cause large emissions in off-grid areas.
  • Transport – the global transport sector is a rising cause of air pollution globally and particularly affects health due to the proximity of vehicles with humans. Petrol and diesel are the main contributors, so shifting to sustainable transport will help the problem. Transport emissions have wide-ranging health impacts. For example, those living close to major traffic areas are up to 12% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia (source).
  • Industry – Industrial activity, especially chemical or mining industries, also pollute the air. The construction industry also generates a lot of dust, particularly in rapidly developing and arid climates, contributing to particulate pollution
  • Agriculture – the main sources of pollution from agriculture include livestock (methane and ammonia), rice paddies (methane) and burning agricultural waste (PM). Methane contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone which causes asthma and respiratory illnesses. Ammonia combines with nitrogen oxides to produce particulate matter
  • Waste – globally an estimated 40% of waste is openly burned, releasing fine particulate matter into the atmosphere. Waste dumps can also produce methane, which can form ground-level ozone