As air quality monitoring improves, it is increasingly difficult for coal, oil and car companies to hide the real cost of fossil fuels. We deserve to know the invisible impact of air pollution on our cities and our health. 

Greenpeace Southeast Asia and IQAir AirVisual have created a tool that uses live air quality data to track the health impact and economic cost of air pollution in real time.

Findings

In the first half of 2020, air pollution was responsible for the loss of an estimated 98,000 lives in the world’s five most populous cities and a combined economic cost of US$56.5 billion.

Air pollution impacts in the world’s five most populous cities from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2020. Cities listed in order of total population size.

CityTotal PopulationEstimated Premature DeathsEstimated Economic Cost
Tokyo37 million29,000US$31 billion
Delhi30 million24,000US$3.5 billion
Shanghai26 million27,000US$13 billion 
São Paulo22 million7,300US$3.5 billion
Mexico City22 million11,000US$5.5 billion
Source: Greenpeace Southeast Asia/IQAir AirVisual cost of air pollution counter. Population source: United Nations World Population Prospects.

These five cities are home to less than 2% of the global population.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that air pollution is linked to approximately 7 million deaths worldwide every year. The toxic air that we breathe increases our risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, asthma and affects nearly every organ in our bodies.

Air pollution also takes a steep financial toll. A January 2020 Greenpeace Southeast Asia report estimates that smog from fossil fuel sources alone costs the world US$8 billion every day, or a staggering 3.3% of global GDP.

We need a green recovery

The good news is that air pollution is a problem that we know how to solve and doing so is more feasible than ever.

Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are now cheaper than polluting fossil fuels in most parts of the world, even before taking the cost of air pollution into account.

Research shows that investment in clean air programs can yield returns of 30 times or higher. In addition, accessible, clean energy powered public transport systems not only bring health savings due to reduced smog, but also increase mobility.

We need clean energy and transport, both for our health and our economies. As governments look to rebuild amid COVID, they must ensure that we build back in a way that is good for the economy and safe for our lungs.

‘We Want Clean Air’ Action in Hong Kong. © Patrick Cho / Greenpeace
'Act for Arctic' Ice Ride in Thailand. © Roengchai  Kongmuang / Greenpeace
Solar Rooftop at Luang Suan Hospital in Thailand. © Greenpeace / Arnaud Vittet

Methodology

The counter uses live air quality data from IQAir AirVisual’s database, combined with scientific risk models, as well as population and health data.

Researchers applied an algorithm to ground-level air quality data to track the projected cost of air pollution from PM2.5 and NO2 pollutants since Jan. 1 2020.

Mortality and cost estimates are based on the total impact attributable to PM2.5 and NO2 over the preceding 365 days, apportioned day by day according to daily recorded pollutant levels.

Cities were selected based on data availability. NO2 is included for cities where data is available.

The counter builds on methodology from the Greenpeace Southeast Asia and Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) report Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels, which compiled the latest scientific results on exposure-response relationships between air pollution and health outcomes, as well as the economic costs of health conditions that were linked to air pollution in scientific literature.

More details on the methodology developed by CREA is available at energyandcleanair.org

Air pollution from fossil fuels costs the world US$8 billion every day

Air pollution from burning fossil fuels – primarily coal, oil, and gas – is attributed to an estimated 4.5 million deaths each year worldwide and estimated economic losses of US$2.9 trillion, or approximately 3.3% of global GDP.

Read the press release

Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels

This report reveals the cost of air pollution from fossil fuels and highlights solutions that can protect our health and benefit our communities.

Read the report