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6.5 million deaths worldwide linked to air pollution: report

Click to play video 'Six-and-a-half million deaths each year are due to pollution, the WHO warns' Six-and-a-half million deaths each year are due to pollution, the WHO warns
On Monday, the WHO called the number of deaths related to air pollution "unacceptable" and are urging countries to improve air quality – Sep 27, 2016

STOCKHOLM – Each year about 6.5 million deaths worldwide are linked to air pollution, a number that could grow in coming decades unless the energy sector steps up its efforts to slash emissions, the International Energy Agency warned Monday.

In the Paris-based agency’s first report on the subject , the IEA said air pollution is the fourth biggest threat to human health, after high blood pressure, bad diets and smoking.

“Without changes to the way that the world produces and uses energy, the ruinous toll from air pollution on human life is set to rise,” the report said.

Outdoor air pollution comes mainly from power plants, factories and cars while household pollution stems from dirty cook stoves, primarily in developing countries. About 3 million premature deaths are linked to outdoor air pollution and 3.5 million premature deaths to inhaling smoke from stoves in the household, the report said.

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People wearing face masks walk across Tiananmen Square on a day with poor air quality in Beijing, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015.
People wearing face masks walk across Tiananmen Square on a day with poor air quality in Beijing, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

The latter number is projected to fall to 3 million in 2040 as access to cleaner-burning stoves improves in poor countries, IEA said. But it projected that the death toll linked to outdoor air quality would rise to 4.5 million, mainly in Asia, as growing demand for energy results in higher emissions.

READ MORE: Air pollution could kill 9 million people a year by 2060, OECD warns

“Air pollution in many of the region’s growing cities continues to be a major public health hazard and, indeed, to affect a larger share of an increasingly urban population,” the report said.

The World Health Organization estimated last month that in 2012 about 3 million premature deaths were linked to outside air pollution and about 4.6 million to household air pollution.

The IEA had a more conservative estimate for household deaths, noting that the line between the two is often blurred.

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However, the IEA said sharp health improvements could be achieved with a seven per cent increase in total energy investment over the period to 2040. That would entail additional reductions of household emissions, stricter fuel standards for cars and trucks, improving energy efficiency and accelerating a shift in power generation from high-polluting sources such as coal to renewable alternatives.

The report said energy production is the biggest source of man-made air pollution, accounting for 85 per cent of the particulate matter and nearly all of the sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides.

Energy production is also a key source of carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming.