Air pollution kills millions of people every year, the only hope at the horizon is harnessing the power of renewable energy.
The findings of a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) underline the need of new regulations, renewable energy technologies and sustainable transportation to cut particulate matter emissions and improve the health of the world’s population, especially of those living in countries with low- and middle-income.
Reading the report, which collects data from more than 4300 cities in 108 countries, we find out that over 90% of people worldwide are exposed to polluted air and that the levels of air pollution are still too high in most parts of the planet.
According to WHO, around seven million people prematurely die every year due to the inhalation of the fine particles contained in outdoor and household polluted air. The organization saw an increase in mortality from air pollution-related diseases, and it estimates that globally air pollution causes 24% of heart disease deaths, 25% of stroke deaths, 29% of lung cancer deaths, and 43% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease deaths.
Air pollution also kills 570,000 children under five every year, and a new UNICEF study finds that almost 17 million infants live in areas where air pollution is at least six times higher than the international limits.
The striking data that emerges from the WHO report is that 90% of these deaths occur in developing countries.
Some early-stage neuroscience studies even suggest that breathing polluted air, or more precisely the small particles from cars, may cause or increase the risk of Alzheimer and other forms of dementia.
Apart from agricultural waste sites and waste incineration, outdoor air pollution is caused mainly by fuel combustion from vehicles, by power generation, by industrial facilities, and by building heating systems. In addition to this, more than three billion people worldwide, who lack access to clean fuels and technologies, are forced to use polluting fuels to cook or to heat and light their home, producing high levels of household air pollution and leaching pollutants outside.
The health of our planet is at risk too.
The particles from the polluted air have no borders, they travel long distances carried by the wind and settle on grounds and water streams severely affecting the ecosystem.
Air quality and climate change are closely interlinked, many of the factors responsible for air pollution are also responsible for the high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and for greenhouse gas emissions.
Reducing the air pollution means dramatically improve the health of people around the world, it means mitigating climate change effects, and it means protecting the planet’s ecosystem.
Think global, act local
The energy choices we are making now are critical to determining our health and the health of our planet in a few years.
It’s time to make smart choices. It’s time to think global and act local. If we want to improve the planet’s air quality, the health of its inhabitants, and its ecosystem, we need to adopt policies that will control local emissions and increase the use of technologies aimed to create a global sustainable transportation.
National and local policymakers and key players need to put in place strategies that will crack down on air pollutants locally while helping to decelerate the relentless progress of climate change globally.
A research by the European Environment Agency shows that renewable energy helped Europe to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 10% in 2015. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, global CO2 emissions from the energy sector could be reduced by 70% by 2050 and entirely phased-out by 2060 thanks to renewables.
The transition to electrification is essential to improve air quality and minimize global warming. The electric vehicles revolution will have the double beneficial effect of protecting the environment while giving us a healthier future. Studies have shown repeatedly that broad adoption of EVs can dramatically cut air pollution, CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions.
It has been estimated that by 2030 electric vehicles are likely to produce 50% less CO2 emissions than diesel cars, including the manufacturing, and that emissions from cars and vans could be cut by between 64% and 93% by 2050.
Saying goodbye to fossil fuels
Some national and local governments are already pledging to ditch fossil fuels in favor of sustainability.
In Europe, Ireland has recently committed to divesting public funds from fossil fuels, becoming the world’s first country to do so. Germany is planning to ban internal combustion engines soon. Being the country with the highest per capita number of electric cars in the world, Norway has raised the stake by aiming to sell only all-electric cars by 2025. In an attempt to combat its growing air pollution crisis, Britain’s government wants to ban the sales of new diesel and gas cars by 2040 while the Mayor of London called on local authorities across the capital to take “their pension funds out of companies that can damage the planet and lead to climate change.” Moreover, to meet its Paris Agreement targets, France decided to ban the sales of fossil fuel vehicles by 2040.
To tackle climate change and to stop its dependence on imported oil, the world’s biggest polluter, China, has now aggressive policies on EV introduction (e.g., financial subsidies, registration and usage limits for regular vehicles). The country is also investing conspicuously in electric vehicle research, aiming to become a leader in the global EV market.
In the United States, California is about to pass a rule requiring 100% of its electricity to come from carbon-free sources. The Golden State is also leading the way towards the EV transition as Governor Brown set the goal of 5 million all-electric vehicles on the roads of the state by 2030. In the East Coast instead, a few months ago, the Mayor of New York City announced the goal to divest the City’s $189 billion pension funds from fossil fuels.
These are still small, timid steps compared to what we need to move forward and achieve a full transition to renewable energy, but one thing is clear at this point: there is no going back. The renewable energy revolution is here and won’t stop.