A global shift to clean energy could save millions of lives while also helping to rein in runaway greenhouse gases, which have set the planet on a path of disastrous warming, UN officials stated Tuesday.
The shift would bring about a dramatic reduction in air pollution, which the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) warned was one of “the greatest hazards to human health.”
The UN pointed to the burning of fossil fuels—including oil and natural gas production and diesel engine exhaust—as culprits in outdoor air pollution, which Dr. Maria Neira, the WHO’s Director of Public Health and Environment, told a meeting of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) was responsible for "3.3 million deaths every year."
"If we increase access to clean energy ... the health benefits will be enormous," Neira told Reuters, and warned that the number of deaths from air pollution would rise with continued dependence on fossil fuels.
In addition to the pollution outdoors, indoor air pollution was cited for its deadly effects.
Neira said "estimations we have now tell us there are 3.5 million premature deaths every year caused by household air pollution."
Inefficient cook stoves are a major source of indoor air pollution, which the UN said can release "carbon monoxide and other pollutants at levels up to 100 times higher than the recommended limits set by WHO."
The dangers of air pollution, indoor and out, are truly deadly and far worse than previously thought, the UN said.
Kandeh Yumkella, director general of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization, gave this sobering assessment: "Air pollution is causing more deaths than HIV or malaria combined."