Global aid flows to fossil fuel projects rather than to combat air pollution

This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Table collaboration.

Governments around the world gave 20 percent more foreign aid funding to fossil fuel projects in 2019 and 2020 than to programs to reduce the air pollution they cause.

Dirty air is the world’s biggest environmental killer, responsible for at least four million premature deaths a year. But only one percent of global development aid is used to address this crisis, according to a Clean Air Fund analysis (COST AND FREIGHT).

The air pollution kills more people than HIV / AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, but those health problems receive much more funding, according to the report. When compared in terms of years of life lost, HIV / AIDS projects received 34 times more funding, while malnutrition programs received seven times more. Raising funding to similar levels to tackle air pollution would save many lives, experts said.

Funding for air quality projects is also heavily skewed towards middle-income Asian countries, with African and Latin American nations receiving only 15% of the total, despite having many heavily polluted cities. For example, Mongolia, which had an estimated 2,260 air pollution-related deaths in 2019, received $ 437 million from 2015 to 2020, while Nigeria, which had 70,150 premature deaths due to air pollution, received only $ 250,000. .

CAF’s Jane Burston described the situation as “crazy and shocking,” adding: “When you see the incredibly chronically low levels of funding on the one hand, and the chronically high levels of public health impacts on the other. , it becomes quite obvious that more funding is needed.

“Air pollution is a massive health crisis, but many of the projects that would reduce pollution would also help limit climate change, because it is about reducing the burning of fossil fuels. There can also be massive equity gains, because the poorest communities are often the hardest hit by air pollution, wherever it is in the world. “

Inger Andersen, director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), said that funding for air quality did not match the scale of the problem: “Our incessant burning of fossil fuels pollutes our air and costs the world economy billions of dollars every year. Ending financing for fossil fuel development and instead investing in growing clean and carbon-free economies will bring immediate benefits. It will save many lives. “

CAF’s report included financing both for projects in which improving air quality was a declared objective and projects in which air pollution was reduced as a benefit of other actions, such as the installation of renewable energy or clean transportation initiatives, including best urban buses in Peru. Most of the aid funding for fossil fuels went to power plants, including the Medupi coal plant in South Africa.

Nearly $ 6 billion in aid was given to air quality programs between 2015 and 2020, and 45 percent went to China, which has reduced air pollution by 29 percent in the past seven years. Mongolia, the Philippines and Pakistan were the next big recipients. India, with more than a million premature deaths from air pollution a year, ranked eighth.

View of Rashtrapati Bhavan from the India Gate, Delhi. Stock photo of Akshatha Inamdar / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

#AirPollution kills more people than malaria, HIV / AIDS and tuberculosis combined, but receives only one percent of development aid to tackle the problem. #FossilFuel #DirtyAir #ClimateChange

African and Latin American nations have more than 500,000 deaths a year due to air pollution, and that number is increasing. But they receive only 5 percent and 10 percent of aid funds, respectively, according to the report. “Africa is where pollution is most likely to grow due to rapid urbanization, so there is a great opportunity to tackle air pollution before it gets terribly bad,” Burston said.

“We are not saying that malnutrition, water and sanitation and HIV / AIDS projects should get less money. Deaths from these are declining as large amounts of funds are being spent well, but air pollution is not on the same scale at all. “

The report recommends increasing funding levels, immediately halting all new investments in fossil fuels, and making air pollution an explicit priority for development aid.

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a health and air quality advocate at the World Health Organization, said: “Dirty air is killing millions of people around the world every year.” Their nine-year-old daughter Ella Kissi-Debrah died in 2013, with air pollution officially blamed.

“My daughter’s case has helped raise awareness about these devastating impacts,” she said. “But activists cannot do it alone. Aid donors play a critical role in providing the base of support that sustains the fight for clean air. “

A separate UNEP report found that one third of the world’s countries have no legal limits for air pollution and that in countries that do, the limits are often weaker than the WHO guidelines.

Other analysis It estimates that about 12,000 people have died early in Europe due to violations of legal pollution limits in Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Montenegro. It found that the 18 coal-fired power plants in the Western Balkans emitted two and a half times more sulfur dioxide than the 221 coal-fired power plants in the EU combined.

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