Clean air a basic human right, says IEA head

The International Energy Agency has released its first-ever World Energy Outlook to focus on air quality. It found that a small increase in energy investments could cut premature deaths from air pollution in half by 2040.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 6.5 million people die prematurely each year as a result of air pollution. A staggering 80 per cent of the world’s population living in cities are exposed to air that feels to meet air quality standards set by the World Health Organisation.

In its World Energy Outlook (WEO) focusing on air quality, the IEA identifies strategies to curb poor air quality, which it calls the “fourth-largest threat to human health after high blood pressure, poor diets and smoking”. It targets in particular energy production and use from unregulated, poorly regulated or inefficient fuel consumption – from factories, power plants, cars, trucks and the 2.7 billion people who rely on polluting stoves and fuels for cooking.

“Clean air is a basic human right that most of the world’s population lacks,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “No country – rich or poor – can claim that the task of tackling air pollution is complete. But governments are far from powerless to act and need to act now. Proven energy policies and technologies can deliver major cuts in air pollution around the world and bring health benefits, provide broader access to energy and improve sustainability.”

The report shows, for instance, that a 7 per cent increase in investing in clean energy sources through 2040 could cut premature deaths from outdoor air pollution by 1.7 million, while those from indoor household pollution would fall by 1.6 million annually.

This would involve boosting access to clean cooking facilities in developing countries, accelerating the switch to clean fuels in the power sector, and increasing energy efficiency in industry and emissions standards for road transport.

Most important is that the world revise its approach to energy development so communities are not forced to choose economic growth over clean air, added Dr. Birol. Implementing the IEA’s strategies can “deliver universal access to modern energy, a rapid peak and decline in global greenhouse-gas emissions and lower fossil-fuel import bills in many countries”.


Image credit: Isengardt, flickr/Creative Commons

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