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Using fewer fossil fuels is saving thousands of lives a year

Using fewer fossil fuels is saving thousands of lives a year

Despite the ongoing struggle with high levels of pollution, small steps towards clean energy are making a significant difference. The latest report from The Lancet Countdown reveals that the gradual shift away from coal, one of the most polluting fossil fuels, is saving nearly 200,000 lives annually.

The report shows a decrease in deaths from air pollution caused by fossil fuels, dropping from 1.43 to 1.21 million per year globally, a reduction of 16.7% between 2005 and 2020. Remarkably, 80% of this reduction is attributed to the decline in pollution from coal.

This research involved 114 scientists and health professionals from over 50 institutions worldwide, with several UN agencies collaborating on The Lancet Countdown project. The report emphasizes that the decrease in deaths is a promising sign that should boost support for the rapidly growing renewable energy sector.

In 2021, the renewable energy industry expanded to a record high of 12.7 million employees, and financial loans increased to $498 billion, nearing the funding received by the fossil fuel industry. However, the report cautions that despite the rapid growth of renewable energy, its usage remains low and uneven.

Commitment to use of fossil fuels remains enormous

Modern renewables contribute only 11% of the electricity produced in the richest countries. But it can be worse: in the poorest countries, they represent only 2.3%. And judging by what the main players are doing, this won’t change quickly.

78% of the countries evaluated in the report were still promoting the use of fossil fuels through net direct subsidies in 2020, for a net total of $305 billion. These countries are responsible for 93% of all global CO₂ emissions.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Discussing private investment, the 40 banks that contributed the most to the fossil fuel sector invested an annual sum of $489 billion between 2017 and 2021. Interestingly, lending saw a 52% increase from 2010 to 2016, prior to the signing of the Paris Agreement, the most significant global plan to combat climate change.

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The industry forecasts that the strategies of the world’s top 20 oil and gas companies will result in emissions exceeding the levels proposed in the Paris Agreement by a staggering 173% by 2040, according to estimates from early 2023. In fact, these levels had already surpassed by 112% in 2022.

Impact on global health

This year is shaping up to be the hottest in history. In fact, scientists estimate that the planet will hit the crucial warming level of 1.5°C sooner than they expected, compared to pre-industrial times.

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of experts convened by the UN, reported in March that this increase in temperature would occur in the next decade. However, new research ensures that this could happen in 2029. 

The recalculation reacts to the continuous increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the past three years. For instance, in 2022, the emissions of around 36.8 billion tons of pollutant gases marked the highest record yet.

The 1.5 °C temperature is mentioned as a “point of no return.” When the time comes, experts warn that the consequences of climate change will be much more difficult to control. But the impact is already felt and is immense.

Between 2018 and 2022, people experienced, on average, 86 days a year of high temperatures dangerous to health, explains the new study from The Lancet Countdown. 60% of these temperatures were more than twice as likely to occur due to climate change, driven by the use of fossil fuels.

The most vulnerable populations bore the brunt. The average annual heat-related mortality increased by 85% in people over 65 years of age, comparing the periods 2013-2022 and 1991-2000. Based on this background, they estimate that heat-related deaths will increase by  370% between 2041 and 2060.

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Use of fossil fuels on the eve of COP28

“Health risks due to climate change are increasing in all monitored dimensions,” highlights the specialist report. “However, adaptation efforts have been insufficient to protect people from the growing dangers.” Global health inequalities continue to increase, the study insists.

Climate change indirectly causes equally perilous impacts. In 2021, the frequency of heatwave days and drought months increased compared to the period from 1981 to 2010, linking to an additional 127 million people experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity. Projections suggest that between 2041 and 2060, an extra 524.9 million people might suffer from moderate to severe food insecurity, escalating the global risk of malnutrition. Furthermore, the spread of life-threatening infectious diseases is expected to increase.

Later this month, world leaders will convene at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, from November 30 to December 12. There is no shortage of data. The scientific community has been emphatic, with the number of articles investigating the links between health and climate change tripling in 2022 compared to 2012.

“However, according to The Lancet Countdown analysis, action is lacking: “We can achieve a prosperous future, but we need to take immediate action to transition away from fossil fuel use and tackle our emissions to ensure we can reach a liveable future.”

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