China's smog knocks 2 years off life expectancy

A report by the International Energy Agency estimates severe air pollution from the energy sector has shortened life expectancy in China by an average 25 months.

It estimates 97 per cent of Chinese people are exposed to ­concentrations of PM2.5 – the tiny particles most hazardous to health – that are above World Health Organisation guidelines.

Every year, about one million premature deaths in the country could be linked to outdoor air pollution, according to the agency’s first study on air pollution.

It said household pollution – mainly from people burning organic matter to cook and using low-quality fossil fuels to heat homes – was killing 1.2 million Chinese every year.

Globally, air pollution had become a major public health crisis, causing 6.5 million premature deaths each year.

“This is not a mistake, it is a crime,” Fatih Birol, the agency’s executive director, said in Beijing yesterday. He said the energy sector had to take greater action to curb emissions.

While the government had made efforts to address pollution, the number of premature deaths could still increase due to the country’s ageing population, which was more vulnerable to its effects, Birol said.

Birol said the IEA had identified inexpensive strategies that could halve pollutant emissions globally. For instance, a 7 per cent increase in energy investment could help cut deaths by three million in rural areas around the world by ending the practice of burning organic matter and kerosene at home.

The report estimates that by curbing pollution from industry, heavy vehicles, and home cooking – among other measures – the life expectancy of Chinese people could increase 15 months by 2040.

Zou Ji, vice-director of the National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, said China needed to make clean-up efforts more cost effective. “The government has promised several trillion to clean up the air – policy makers need to make sure taxpayers’ money is spent effectively,” he said.

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