30.7% of Deaths in India Due to Fossil Fuel Air Pollution: Study

Health News
3 min read
Hindi Female

More than eight million people are killed every year by air pollution from burning fossil fuels, a study by researchers at Harvard University, University College London and other universities has revealed.

The burning of fossil fuels – especially coal, petrol, and diesel – is a major source of airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and a key contributor to the global burden of mortality and disease.

Former research has focused on the impact of air pollution in totality on health and mortality. This study, published in the journal Environmental Research, narrows down on the fossil fuel component of air pollution and finds that it is alone responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide.


The study estimates a global total of 10.2 million premature deaths in 2012 attributable to the fossil fuel component of PM2.5. The greatest mortality impact is observed over regions with substantial fossil fuel-related PM2.5, notably China (3.9 million), India (2.5 million) and parts of eastern US, Europe and Southeast Asia.

Fossil fuel combustion can be more readily controlled than other sources and precursors of PM2.5 such as dust or wildfire smoke. A shift to clean sources of energy will help reduce air pollution-related deaths significantly, as has been witnessed in China.

China had the highest burden of 3.91 million deaths per year, followed by India with 2.46 million per year according to data from 2012.

However, these estimates are for the year when fossil fuel emissions in China peaked, which predates huge and dramatic reductions in fossil fuel emissions due to strict mitigation measures. These reductions led to a 30-50% decline in annual mean PM2.5 across the country from 2013 to 2018.

The researchers found that globally, exposure to particulate matter from fossil fuel emissions accounted for 21.5 percent of total deaths in 2012, falling to 18% in 2018 due to tightening air quality measures in China.

On the question of why the data in the study is from 2012, the authors say, “Global meteorological conditions can affect estimates of air pollution - in particular the El Niño weather pattern can worsen or improve air pollution. The study uses air pollution data from 2012 as El Niño was in a neutral phase, meaning it did not affect air pollution levels at the time. If it had used data from another year, the estimates of air pollution mortality might have been higher or lower because of the El Niño.”

India - Fossil Fuel Air Pollution Related Deaths

The study found the highest rates of deaths from fossil fuels in China and India, but no country is immune to the harmful effects of air pollution from the burning of fossil fuel. In India, 30.7% of deaths can be attributed to air pollution from fossil fuels - just under 2.5 million people (based on 2012 data).


India has recently imposed controls on pollution sources, but there is not yet evidence of air quality improvements in densely populated cities like Delhi.

“Our study adds to the mounting evidence that air pollution from ongoing dependence on fossil fuels is detrimental to global health,” said coauthor Eloise Marais, a former postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, now Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at UCL. “We can’t in good conscience continue to rely on fossil fuels, when we know that there are such severe effects on health and viable, cleaner alternatives.”

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Topics:  Air Pollution   Pollution   fossil fuels 

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