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article imageReport: Polluted air will kill more people than dirty water

By Elizabeth Batt     Mar 17, 2012 in Environment
Urban air pollution is set to become the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050, says a new report by France's Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The worst countries affected will be China and India.
The report released March 15 was issued with a strong warning, "Act now or face costly consequences." Particulate air pollutants that cause respiratory failure could double premature death rates from just over 1 million today, to 3.6 million every year globally said OECD, particularly in China and India.
The report examined socio-economic trends over the next four decades and identified four key areas of concern: climate change, biodiversity, water and the health impacts of pollution. It also said pollution-related premature deaths would, for the first time, oust existing causes of early demise: poor sanitation and a lack of clean drinking water.
"The costs of inaction could be colossal, both in economic and human terms" suggested the organization, particularly as over a quarter of the population in OECD countries is projected to be over 65 years of age in 2050 compared to just15% today. China and India they added, are likely to experience significant population ageing, with China’s workforce actually shrinking by 2050.
OECD member countries impacted by the the report, include Australia, the majority of Europe, Japan, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
But perhaps China's potential premature death rate elevation is no big surprise? With 1.3 billion people (as of 2011), China is the world's most populous country. Explosive growth and industrialization, has seen the country's environmental issues reach crisis mode. The country of India fairs little better, because like China, it is densely populated.
With world population expected to increase from 7 billion today to over 9 billion in 2050, added OECD, pressures to the environment are certain to increase. Global pollution is is especially concerning, particularly when it comes to China.
Back in February, Digital Journal examined China's environmental nightmare and cited a 2007 report by Spiegel Online, that said:
"Slowly politicians and scientists are recognizing the path of destruction caused by China's industrial revolution."
Indeed Spiegel added, chemical signatures from China have been located in clouds floating above Europe and on the West Coast of the United States. They come "from coal-fired Chinese power plants, Chinese smelters and chemical factories, as well as from the tailpipes of countless Chinese diesel-powered cars and trucks."
But if OECD's report is accurate, it is also alarming. Greenhouse gas emissions it said, will rise by 50 percent by 2050, carbon dioxide emissions from energy use to 2050 are projected to increase by 70 percent and biodiversity impacts would affect animal and plant species by 10 percent on land. Furthermore, 40 percent of the world's population will be living under extreme water stress.
Considering air pollution concentrations in some cities already far exceed World Health Organization safe levels, particularly in Asia adds the report, further deterioration by 2050 is expected. Premature deaths from exposure to ground-level ozone will also more than double worldwide with more than 40% of them expected to occur in China and India.
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said action and new policies must be taken now:
"Greener sources of growth can help governments today as they tackle these pressing challenges. Greening agriculture, water and energy supply and manufacturing will be critical by 2050 to meet the needs of over 9 billion people."
But OECD suggests, to be successful, they must consider climate change, loss of biodiversity, water and the health impacts of pollution simultaneously.
Gurría added, "we have already witnessed the collapse of some fisheries due to overfishing, with significant impacts on coastal communities, and severe water shortages are a looming threat to agriculture. These enormous environmental challenges cannot be addressed in isolation. They must be managed in the context of other global challenges, such as food and energy security, and poverty alleviation,” she said.
OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction: Key Facts and Figures is available at
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