OECD estimates 6-9 million premature deaths annually by 2060 from outdoor air pollution

June 10, 2016

3 million deaths from outdoor air pollution in 2015 expected to triple by 2060

A new OECD report has found outdoor air pollution could cause 6 to 9 million premature deaths by 2060, and cost 1% of the global GDP.  The new report, The Economic Consequences of Air Pollution, published this week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, “provides a comprehensive assessment of the regional and global economic consequences of outdoor air pollution in the coming decades.” Underlying the report’s conclusions is the prediction that the natural progression of global economic activity and energy demand will serve to significantly increase the levels of air pollutants in the air by 2060. As a result, the consequent reduction in global economic output by 2060 due to increasing air pollution will equate to approximately $330 per person, due to annual healthcare costs related to air pollution rising to $176 billion (from $21 billion in 2015) and the number of work days lost to air pollution-related illness rising from 1.2 billion to 3.7 billion.

Regions set to be hit hardest by GDP losses will be China, Russia, India, Korea, and countries in Eastern Europe and the Caspian region. Increasing health costs and decreasing labor productivity will be the biggest impactors on GDP loss, while poor air quality will hit China’s economy harder than India’s, due to differences in household savings rates and demographics.


“The number of lives cut short by air pollution is already terrible and the potential rise in the next few decades is terrifying,” said OECD Environment Director Simon Upton, presenting the report at the 8th Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Batumi, Georgia. “If this is not motivation enough to act, this report shows there will also be a heavy economic cost to not taking action. We must prevent these projections from becoming reality.”

The primary conclusions from the report are based on the OECD’s ENV-Linkage model, which includes pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and black carbon. The report acknowledges that there has been a measure of decoupling between economic growth and emissions, but this is restricted to already-developed regions. Regions with higher economic growth, or those regions with increasing levels of energy and energy-intensive sectors, especially those sectors reliant upon coal-fired electricity generation, are going to see emissions levels increase rapidly — such as South and South East Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Outdoor air pollution caused 3 million premature deaths in 2010, concentrated in the elderly and children as the most at-risk demographics. This level is only expected to increase, according to the OECD, which is predicting these mortality rates could double or even triple by 2060. The biggest increase in mortality rates stemming from air pollution is expected in India, China, Korea, and Central Asia countries like Uzbekistan. Rising populations and increasing urbanization will expose an ever-larger number of people to power plant emissions and traffic exhaust, pushing the premature death rates sky-high.