Even a relatively minor increase in energy investment and associated policies could slash premature air-pollution related deaths significantly by the year 2040, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The IEA’s World Energy Outlook (WEO) special report represents the agency’s first in-depth analysis of the issue of air quality and air pollution — and explores the strong links between the energy industries, air pollution, and human health.
Strategies laid out in the report could cut emissions of the pollutants most responsible for human health issues by 50% by the year 2040, the report argues. Notably, the strategies make use only of already existing energy technologies and policies.
“Clean air is a basic human right that most of the world’s population lacks,” stated IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “No country — rich or poor — can claim that the task of tackling air pollution is complete. But governments are far from powerless to act and need to act now. Proven energy policies and technologies can deliver major cuts in air pollution around the world and bring health benefits, provide broader access to energy and improve sustainability.”
As noted in a press release for the report, “air quality outlook is not set in stone, but rather it is a policy choice. The report presents strategies tailored to various country circumstances to deliver cleaner air for all. A Clean Air Scenario demonstrates how energy policy choices backed by just a 7% increase in total energy investment through 2040 produce a sharp improvement in health. Under such a scenario, premature deaths from outdoor air pollution would decline by 1.7 million in 2040 compared with our main scenario, and those from household pollution would fall by 1.6 million annually.”
Amongst the actions prescribed by the report are: the delivery of clean cooking facilities to a further 1.8 billion people by 2040; the enactment of emissions controls and fuel switching in the energy sector; increasing energy efficiency in the industrial sector; and the strict enforcement of emissions standards in the transportation sector (no VW-style workarounds, etc.).
The press release continues: “Overall, the extra impetus to the energy transition means that global energy demand is 13% lower in 2040 than otherwise expected and, of the energy that is combusted, three-quarters is subject to advanced pollution controls, compared with only around 45% today.”
“We need to revise our approach to energy development so that communities are not forced to sacrifice clean air in return for economic growth,” commented Dr Birol. “Implementing the IEA strategy in the Clean Air Scenario can push energy-related pollution levels into a steep decline in all countries. It can also deliver universal access to modern energy, a rapid peak and decline in global greenhouse-gas emissions and lower fossil-fuel import bills in many countries.”
Other means whereby government action could produce results, highlighted by the report, include:
- Setting an ambitious long-term air quality goal, to which all stakeholders can subscribe and against which the efficacy of the various pollution mitigation options can be assessed.
- Putting in place a package of clean air policies for the energy sector to achieve the long-term goal, drawing on a cost-effective mix of direct emissions controls, regulation and other measures, giving due weight to the co-benefits for other energy policy objectives.
- Ensuring effective monitoring, enforcement, evaluation and communication: keeping a strategy on course requires reliable data, a continuous focus on compliance and on policy improvement, and timely and transparent public information.