Chronic air pollution cuts average global life expectancy by more than two years per person, a study published on Tuesday showed, an impact comparable to that of smoking and far worse than HIV/AIDS or terrorism.

More than 97% of the global population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds recommended levels, the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) said in its latest Air Quality Life Index, which used satellite data to measure levels of PM2.5, hazardous floating particles that damage the lungs.

It said that if global PM2.5 levels were reduced to the five micrograms per cubic metre recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), average life expectancy would rise by an average of 2.2 years.

Air pollution has been neglected as a public health issue, with funding to address the problem still inadequate, the study warned.

“Now that our understanding of pollution’s impact has improved, there’s a stronger case for governments to prioritise it as an urgent policy issue,” said Christa Hasenkopf, director of EPIC’s Air Quality Life Index.

Residents of South Asia lose an estimated five years of life as a result of smog, the study said, with India accounting for around 44% of the world’s increase in air pollution since 2013.

Residents of China could live an average of 2.6 years longer if WHO standards were reached, though life expectancy has improved by around two years since 2013, when the country began a “war on pollution” that cut PM2.5 by around 40%.

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Areas of Focus: Environment
Definition
Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.
Air Pollution
Definition
Air Pollution
Air pollution from fossil fuel combustion poses a grave threat to human health worldwide. EPIC research is using real-world data to calculate the effects of air pollution on human health...
AQLI
Definition
AQLI
Particulate air pollution is one of the most serious risks to human health globally. To help communicate those risks, the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) converts particulate air pollution into...