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Air pollution kills

The total number of deaths attributed to airborne pollution continues to decrease across the OECD world, largely thanks to regulatory policies for transport vehicle emissions and technological improvements. Between 2005 and 2010, pollution-related mortalities fell by 4% from approximately 498,000 cases a year, to just over 478,000. But a closer look reveals a more worrying picture. Outside of the EU, only the US and Israel have successfully attained reductions in deaths, while 14 other member countries–including Australia, Canada and Japan–actually recorded an increase in the absolute number of mortalities.

Outside the OECD, figures portray a grimmer tale. Globally, premature deaths from ambient air pollution have risen by 4% over the same time period. In China, there has been a 5% increase in the already high number of 1,215,180 deaths, with 64,000 new cases. India reported an even sharper increase of 12% from over 620,000 deaths. Indeed, China and India account for more than half of the economic costs of pollution-related health grievances worldwide. According to the OECD, the 3.4 million deaths worldwide in 2010 represent an estimated US$3.5 trillion dollars in expenses and lost productivity across OECD countries plus China and India.

Across the developing world, growing levels of traffic far outpace the implementation of stricter emission controls. Governments can help reduce the death toll by adopting tax and regulatory policies that address diesel and petrol emissions.

See www.oecd.org/environment

© OECD Observer No 299, Q2 2014