Researchers have found that almost 20% of adult mortality across the world in 2018 was caused by fossil fuel pollution, with China and India the hardest hit countries, according to a study in the Environmental Research journal.

Areas with the highest levels of fossil fuel polluted air were eastern North America, Europe, and South-East Asia, with China and India accounting for half of the fatalities, while Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States equally split a million deaths.

Professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard’s school of public health, Joel Schwartz, who co-authored the study, stated that “We often discuss the dangers of fossil fuel combustion in the context of CO2 and climate change and overlook the potential health impact.”

This data builds on a previous Global Burden of Disease Study, which explored how pollution impacted mortality rates, finding 4.2 million had died due to fossil fuel emissions.

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The report called on lawmakers internationally to take action to avoid further unnecessary fatalities and address the issue of climate change, citing how China’s work to slash its carbon emissions had saved 2.4 million lives.

The researchers behind the study urged other countries to take the risk seriously and speed up their move towards a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and increase sustainable and renewable energy.

Previous data has shown that air pollution, on average, decreases the lifespan of people by more than two years, with citizens in Asia losing around four years, while it costs Europeans eight months.

Polluted air can increase the risk of heart disease and strokes, as well as spiking cases of lung disease, resulting in breathing difficulties in citizens living in the worst hit countries, similar to those caused by second-hand smoke.

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