At this point, there are few that contest that air pollution reduces the quality of life in urban centers and may be a major contributor to climate change. However, a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) examined the economic consequences of air pollution and arrived at some disturbing findings.
According to the report, outdoor air pollution, if left unchecked at its current rate of increase, could cause between 6 and 9 million premature deaths per year by 2060. Moreover, it may make a dent of one percent per year in the global economy – a number that may not sound very large in and of itself, but which represents $2.6 trillion. The OECD released its report on Thursday.
Factors contributing to that very significant number include annual healthcare costs (an estimated $176 billion). To put that into perspective, healthcare cost a relatively paltry $21 billion in 2015. Also of importance: the loss of hours worked, which would rise to 3.7 billion from the current 1.2 billion. More directly, crop yields would fall because of dirty air.
Speaking about the findings of the report, OECD Environmental Director Simon Upton said, "The number of lives cut short by air pollution is already terrible and the potential rise in the next few decades is terrifying … If this is not motivation enough to act, this report shows there will also be a heavy economic cost to not taking action."
In 2010, outdoor air pollution caused more than 3 million premature deaths. However, the OECD fears that number could double or even triple by 2060. Perhaps unsurprisingly, developing nations experiencing the largest population booms and pollution effects of industrialization would also experience the worst mortality rates.
Nations like India, China, Korea, and Uzbekistan would likely suffer the worst due to power plant emissions, traffic exhaust, and heavily congested cities.
The consequences are already evident in India, home to four of the ten cities with the worst air pollution according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Meanwhile, in nations combating air pollution, such as the United States and many parts of Western Europe, death rates due to air pollution have shown stabilization and even decline; a trend that should continue through 2060 according to the OECD report.
Air pollution can arise from many sources, but the worst contributors include motor vehicles, climate control for large buildings, waste management, agriculture, coal and diesel power generation, and many forms of manufacturing.