Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was responsible for 8.7m deaths globally in 2018, which was one in five of all people who died that year. The death toll outlined in the study may even be an underestimate of the true picture, according to George Thurston, an expert in air pollution and health at the NYU school of medicine who was not involved in the research.
The study finding more than one in 10 deaths in both the US and Europe were caused by the resulting pollution.
As well as nearly a third of deaths in eastern Asia, which includes China.
The death toll exceeds the combined total of people who die globally each year from smoking tobacco plus those who die of malaria.
Without fossil fuel emissions, the average life expectancy of the world’s population would increase by more than a year.
“We don’t appreciate that air pollution is an invisible killer,” said Neelu Tummala, an ear, nose and throat physician at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “The air we breathe impacts everyone’s health but particularly children, older individuals, those on low incomes and people of color. Usually people in urban areas have the worst impacts.”