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Beijing and Shanghai’s air pollution problems to blame for 49,000 deaths

Since the start of 2020, around 49,000 people have died in the cities of Beijing and Shanghai due to air pollution, according to a new study.

The report from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) found that the deaths resulted in around $23bn in economic losses and occurred despite improvements to air quality during the coronavirus lockdown, albeit only temporarily.

Shanghai reportedly had worse concentrations of hazardous PM2.5 particles than Beijing, although Shanghai registered higher rates of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

“This also highlights the fact that Shanghai’s pollution is now almost as bad as Beijing’s, as Beijing has improved a lot faster,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, CREA’s lead analyst.

On a global scale, CREA estimates that health damage from air pollution has cost between 0.4 and 6 per cent of annual GDP in the world’s leading cities in the first half of 2020, due to increased risks of chronic illnesses, asthma, work absences, preterm births and many other health impacts.

The study revealed that New Delhi bore the highest single cost of air pollution at 5.8 per cent of its annual GDP and around 25,000 deaths.

At the end of 2018, the city was beset by a thick smog due to an increase in smoke from stubble burning in fields across the region and unfavourable weather.

The pollution levels in the city have led to an increase in lower respiratory infections which can lead to death or shortened lifespans. It is also estimated that over 4,000 new cases of asthma in children can be attributed to the high levels of NO2 pollution.

It’s not just the developing world that is affected: cities that suffered the highest cost in dollars per capita tended to be those with both relatively high pollution levels and income and cost levels.

The report singled out Canberra, Los Angeles, Berlin, Seoul, Tokyo, London, Dubai and Bucharest at the top of the list for financial impact.

Canberra’s average PM2.5 pollution levels in December were eight times as high as the city’s average, with the increased PM2.5 exposure expected to result in health costs of A$600m (£475m) and 260 excess deaths over the coming years (a statistically significant proportion of its relatively small population).

A study last month found that half of the world’s population are being exposed to progressively worse air pollution despite broad efforts to make improvements.

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