Air pollution deaths exposed as cities step up to save lives


India and China’s continued use of coal is causing an additional 1.6 million deaths per year, and both nations are failing to reduce air pollution-related despite rising GDP, says a new report from Greenpeace. India has in fact overtaken China in deaths caused by outdoor air pollution, with an average of 3,283 premature deaths per day compared to 3,233 per day in China. This news comes as coal companies shirk their responsibility to protect workers from the rising spectre of Black Lung Disease in the USA and Australia;  and amid a series of deadly mining accidents in Turkey and China, where illegal mine operators desperately attempt to halt the decline of their businesses. While many people scramble to find a quick-fix to alleviate the air pollution crisis sweeping Asia, the Chinese government seems intent on taking one step forward then two steps back, throwing a risky $490 billion bone to an ailing coal industry that would cost more lives – if the investment doesn’t become a white elephant first. Health experts around the world have made it abundantly clear that the solution is to stop burning coal and decarbonise our cities, and thankfully the C40 group – representing 7,100 major cities and towns from 119 countries – are listening, and have pledged to fight urban air pollution by ditching diesel vehicles and signing up to a World Health Organisation campaign to quit coal and save more than three million lives by 2030.


Key Points

  • New data shows that air pollution in China and India is killing 1.6 million people every year, and the coal industry is the guilty culprit. As national economies grow and GDP rises, air pollution and associated premature deaths tend to fall, but India and China are bucking this trend with swelling numbers of respiratory illnesses that can be linked to the burning of coal. Three million lives are lost each year through exposure to outdoor air pollution with the vast majority of these deaths occurring in cities, 92 percent of the world’s population is subject to unsafe levels of air pollution, and the World Economic Forum warns that the global health bill associated with dirty air and energy is currently running into a staggering $225 billion.
  • Governments and business are wilfully taking human lives by choosing to invest in more fossil fuel infrastructure with very well know health impacts. We may be living in the post-truth era but some realities are unshakeable. The sun rises in the East, smoking increases cancer rates, and burning coal causes deadly air pollution. For governments in countries like Japan, Turkey and Australia, and for businesses like Adani – to sanction coal is akin to a death sentence for millions of people, particularly in South-East Asia. Adding insult to injury some governments, like those in Australia and the U.S., are allowing coal companies to shirk taxes and shy away from clean-up costs, leaving taxpayers and workers on the hook for the destruction and health impacts the coal industry leaves in its wake.
  • Cities are stepping up to curb urban pollution and stepping out ahead of national governments that are failing to take urgent action to ditch dangerous fossils and protect  their citizens. The leaders of 7,100 cities, including Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens, have committed to tackle the 6.5 million deaths from air pollution every year by ditching diesel vehicles and signing up to a World Health Organisation campaign that aims to phase-out coal in favour of clean renewable energy. Some countries, like Finland and Portugal, are keeping pace with cities in protecting their citizens from the impacts of air pollution – but major emitters including Canada and the EU have shown this week that they are off the pace in the global race to decarbonise.






  • “This report makes clear the tragic waste to human health and lives from coal burning in India and China. It provides the evidence needed that phasing out coal will achieve massive health improvements – and also help meet climate targets.” – Genon K. Jensen, Executive Director, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)
  • “In India, the situation is not being taken seriously by authorities. Instead, there are talks of easing deadlines for implementing the notified emission standards for coal-fired power plants. Further development of thermal power plants will not only create health risks but also have a crippling effect on the economy.” – Sunil Dahiya, campaigner, Greenpeace India
  • “Ending the use of coal is a simple, no-regrets public health intervention. The rapid phase-out of coal fired stations is an imperative first step. Coal is the most carbon-intensive source of power generation, and is a key focus for reducing the risks of climate change.” – the U.K. Health Alliance on Climate Change.
  • “The quality of the air that we breathe in our cities is directly linked to tackling climate change. As we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions generated in our cities, our air will become cleaner and our children, our grandparents and our neighbours will be healthier.” – Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid.
  • “We no longer tolerate air pollution and the health problems and deaths it causes – particularly for our most vulnerable citizens. Big problems like air pollution require bold action, and we call on car and bus manufacturers to join us.” – Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris and Chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.
  • “By continuing to pursue coal power, China is not only putting public health at risk, but risks wasting $490bn on new coal plants that aren’t needed to meet demand.” – Luke Sussams, Senior Researcher at the Carbon Tracker Initiative.