Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Blue sky is highest in Europe, while clouds are lowest there
Europe has the highest number of deaths due to air pollution in the world, according to a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal, shows that these deaths are more prevalent in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions.
But WHO estimates that overall, there has been a decrease in air pollution deaths of less than 1% globally.
In contrast, the study found that the rate of preventable deaths attributed to air pollution in Asia, Africa and Latin America has increased.
Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental challenges the world faces, but pollution is rising across all parts of the world, especially in the UK where a legal limit is not being met in many areas.
If air pollution continues to be a major health issue for some populations, especially those living in fast-growing, urban areas, then we have to think differently about how air pollution affects them.
Speaking to the BBC, Professor John Middleton, a global health expert at Britain’s Imperial College London, said air pollution remained one of the top threats to global health.
“I think it is one of the most important public health problems the world faces today,” he said.
“It is the main determinant of premature death around the world, and in cities it is an even bigger problem.”
Image copyright EPA Image caption Air pollution is the biggest killer worldwide, according to the WHO
These are particularly worrying findings, he said, and underlined the need for the WHO to carry out more and better research.
“It emphasises how we are really struggling to understand what the impact of air pollution is on the rest of the world and if that is translating into public health changes,” he said.
Public Health England described the results as “very concerning” and said it would be watching what happens across Europe.
“Air pollution is a major concern for Britain,” said Karen Ross, chief executive of Public Health England.
“We want people to live a long and healthy life and indoor and outdoor air pollution can cause significant health impacts.”
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Cause and effect was apparent in a third of urban areas in Britain’s ‘females most at risk’ study
The latest study was based on two overlapping sets of data.
The first looked at mortality rates due to multiple air pollution gases, known as PM10, in different parts of the world.
The second looked at air pollution levels specifically.
Europe ranked as having the highest number of deaths attributed to air pollution in the world, with over 360,000 deaths.
There were also serious air pollution-related problems in major cities like London, New York, Tokyo and Singapore.
China was the worst country for air pollution-related deaths.
The study said that the causes of air pollution-related deaths were similar throughout the world.
Even without calculating the effect of climate change, it found that the number of deaths attributed to air pollution rose worldwide over the past two decades.
“I do think that we have to recognise that if we do not act now, then we will see even more of these deaths,” said Prof Middleton.
“The air pollution that we put into the atmosphere is overwhelmingly due to human activity.
“It is very much a ’cause and effect’ issue. That is why this is a major concern.”