30 October 2016

Invest in energy to cut air pollution deaths

Options Magazine Winter 2016: Just a small increase in energy investment could cut premature deaths from air pollution in half by 2040, says a new report which was underpinned by key contributions from the IIASA Air Quality and Greenhouse Gases Program.

© Studioworkstock | Dreamstime

© Studioworkstock | Dreamstime

The International Energy Authority (IEA) published its World Energy Outlook report in June 2016, highlighting the links between energy, air pollution, and health. It also identified ways in which the energy sector can improve poor air quality, one of the top threats to human health.

IIASA researchers contributed to the report by quantifying the air pollution and health impacts of projections of alternative energy policy interventions. Their analysis relied on the Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollution Interactions and Synergies model.

The report shows that energy production and use—mostly from unregulated, poorly regulated, or inefficient fuel combustion—are the most important anthropogenic sources of key air pollutants: 85% of particulate matter and almost all of the sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Millions of tons of these pollutants are released into the atmosphere each year, from factories, power plants, cars, trucks, as well as the 2.7 billion people still relying on polluting stoves and fuels for cooking (mainly wood, charcoal, and other biomass).

However, air quality in the future is not set in stone; it is a policy choice. The report presents strategies tailored to various countries to deliver cleaner air for all. A Clean Air Scenario demonstrates how energy policy choices backed by just a 7% increase in total energy investment through 2040 produce a sharp improvement in health. With this investment, premature deaths from outdoor air pollution would decline by 1.7 million in 2040 and those from household pollution would fall by 1.6 million annually.

Text by Daisy Brickhill

Further information

OECD, IEA, IIASA (2016). Energy and Air Pollution: World Energy Outlook Special Report 2016. International Energy Agency, Paris, France

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Last edited: 28 August 2017


Markus Amann

Program Director

Air Quality and Greenhouse Gases

T +43(0) 2236 807 432

Options Winter 2016


Fischer G, Hizsnyik E, Tramberend S , & Wiberg D (2015). Towards indicators for water security - A global hydro-economic classification of water challenges. IIASA Interim Report. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: IR-15-013

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