Particulate Matter a Growing Problem, Despite Aggressive Transport Policies

06.09.16 | Blog | By:

Despite the actions taken by many governments to reduce stationary and mobile source air pollution – ozone and particulate matter (both PM10 and PM2.5) are expected to increase substantially in the coming years concurrent with increased economic activity and energy demand. This week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a report assessing the potential economic impacts of spiraling air pollution through 2060, finding 1% loss of GDP or $2.6 trillion annually in losses.

The impacts are attributed in part to premature mortality, illness and medical expenses, lost productivity and lower crop yields. As the following chart shows, the GDP losses are even more staggering in China and Russia.

Source: OECD

The number of premature deaths from outdoor pollution could climb from 3 million in 2010 to 6-9 million annually by 2060, most likely happening in the world’s megacities and among aging populations (particularly in China and Eastern Europe). PM2.5, a known human carcinogen, is the biggest threat. To give us all some context, I pulled the following chart from the World Health Organization (WHO) site. The current annual mean average for PM concentrations under the WHO air quality guidelines is 10 μg/m3.

Stunning, no? What is amazing to me, referring back to the first chart, is the number of premature deaths expected in areas of the world such as the U.S., Canada, Korea, Japan and especially Europe that have implemented many policies to fight air pollution. Governments in these countries have been aggressively tackling air pollution in the last 20-30 years.

From the transport perspective, these countries have implemented cleaner conventional fuels, tougher emissions and fuel economy standards (Dieselgate not withstanding!), inspection and maintenance programs, promoted cleaner public transport, among other initiatives.

And yet, the WHO data suggests that it may not have been enough. I don’t know what this portends for the future. Permanent car bans in the megacities with only public transport allowed? Clean vehicle mandates (e.g. electric vehicle or hydrogen) for personal and shared mobility tied to mandated renewable grids? Even tougher fuel economy and fuel standards for all vehicles (light- and heavy-duty)? I think it will be all of the above.


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