Research Press Release

Environment: G20 consumption may contribute to millions of premature deaths

Nature Communications

November 3, 2021

Nearly 2 million premature deaths resulting from air pollution could be attributable to the consumption of goods in G20 nations in 2010, suggests a modelling study in Nature Communications. The findings aid our understanding of nation-to-nation consumer responsibility for global mortality.

The G20 is a group of 19 nations and the European Union and its members represent around three-quarters of international trade. Fine particulate matter emissions (PM2.5) are associated with around 4 million premature deaths annually, with the majority of deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Air pollution emissions are often associated with the production of goods that are consumed in other, often high-income, countries, and recent studies have explored the health impacts of transboundary pollution transport (pollution created in one nation, which then effects another nation) and trade-related emissions. However, the impact of nation-to-nation consumption on health as a result of PM2.5 emissions is still not well understood—especially concerning secondary particle formation, which form within the atmosphere as a result of other emissions.

Keisuke Nansai and colleagues conducted a modelling study to quantify nation-to-nation consumer responsibility of the 19 G20 nations for global mortality due to primary and secondary PM2.5 particles. They mapped ambient PM2.5 and estimate health impacts due to PM2.5 exposure in 199 countries, which they then linked to trade and consumption of goods in G20 nations. The authors found that in 2010 consumption in G20 nations resulted in 1.983 million premature deaths at an average age of 67 years. The authors suggest that of these deaths, 78.6 thousand occurred in infants. Of the G20 nations; China, India, USA, Russia and Indonesia had the largest premature mortality footprint due to PM2.5. These mortalities, except for in the USA, were mostly within their own borders. The authors also indicate that the consumption of goods in the USA and ten other G20 nations induced over 50% of premature deaths associated with PM2.5 in other countries.

The findings emphasize that direct transboundary transport is not the only way in which countries can cause air pollution in other places. The G20 nations should take collective action to reduce the number of premature deaths associated with their consumption, the authors argue.


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