On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a worrying report stating that “93% of the world’s children under 15 years of age are exposed to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels above WHO air quality guidelines”.
GDP per capita versus median concentration of particulate matter (PM2.5)
This represents 1.8 billion children worldwide. In low and lower middle-income countries, nearly all children under 5 (98%) are exposed to levels above WHO guidelines. In contrast, in high income countries, a little more than half (52%) of the children are exposed to high PM2.5 concentration levels. High PM2.5 concentration levels affect neurodevelopment and the lung functions. These particles are emitted through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Inefficient transport modes, industrial activities, cooking, heating and waste burning are among the major contributors to the emissions of PM2.5. The WHO estimates that the combination of ambient and household air pollution has caused the deaths of about 600,000 children under the age of 15 in 2016.
As often, we see that it is better to be born in a high-income country. This is highlighted in the previous graph, where we represent the median concentration of particulate matter versus the GDP per capita by country. One can notice the overall negative slope. Two groups of countries appear to stand out: The Gulf countries and small Pacific islands. The former group is characterized by high electricity consumption per capita, with electricity mostly produced thought fossil fuel combustion. They show a median concentration above the expected level. The latter group is composed of countries with little industry and relatively low population density. Their median PM2.5 concentration is below that of their peer countries. This raises the question of inequality against pollution and its effects, that also emerges in the GHG emissions discussion. Indeed, the majority of GHG is emitted for the consumption of the top 10% richest people, while the effects are the most devastating in poor countries. This advocates for a greater effort from the richer countries.
Ruben Haalebos, Analyst, Data Science Dpt. - Sources: Beyond Ratings, World Bank, WHO