Transboundary health impacts of transported global air pollution and international trade

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
543,
Pages:
705–709
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nature21712
Received
Accepted
Published online

Millions of people die every year from diseases caused by exposure to outdoor air pollution1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Some studies have estimated premature mortality related to local sources of air pollution6, 7, but local air quality can also be affected by atmospheric transport of pollution from distant sources8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. International trade is contributing to the globalization of emission and pollution as a result of the production of goods (and their associated emissions) in one region for consumption in another region14, 19, 20, 21, 22. The effects of international trade on air pollutant emissions23, air quality14 and health24 have been investigated regionally, but a combined, global assessment of the health impacts related to international trade and the transport of atmospheric air pollution is lacking. Here we combine four global models to estimate premature mortality caused by fine particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution as a result of atmospheric transport and the production and consumption of goods and services in different world regions. We find that, of the 3.45 million premature deaths related to PM2.5 pollution in 2007 worldwide, about 12 per cent (411,100 deaths) were related to air pollutants emitted in a region of the world other than that in which the death occurred, and about 22 per cent (762,400 deaths) were associated with goods and services produced in one region for consumption in another. For example, PM2.5 pollution produced in China in 2007 is linked to more than 64,800 premature deaths in regions other than China, including more than 3,100 premature deaths in western Europe and the USA; on the other hand, consumption in western Europe and the USA is linked to more than 108,600 premature deaths in China. Our results reveal that the transboundary health impacts of PM2.5 pollution associated with international trade are greater than those associated with long-distance atmospheric pollutant transport.

At a glance

Figures

  1. Worldwide premature mortality in 2007 due to PM2.5 air pollution.
    Figure 1: Worldwide premature mortality in 2007 due to PM2.5 air pollution.

    ah, Maps show the number of deaths related to either the air pollution produced (that is, emitted) in the given region (a, China; b, western Europe; c, USA; d, India) or the air pollution related to goods and services consumed in that region (eh). Differences in worldwide premature mortality between production- and consumption-related PM2.5 air pollution for these four regions are presented in Extended Data Fig. 4.

  2. Proportion of PM2.5-related deaths in a given region that are linked to emissions produced or goods and services consumed in that and other regions.
    Figure 2: Proportion of PM2.5-related deaths in a given region that are linked to emissions produced or goods and services consumed in that and other regions.

    Each cell in the grid shows the fraction of deaths (%) that occurred in the region indicated by the column due to pollution produced (a) or due to goods and services consumed (b) in the region indicated by the row. The diagonal thus reflects deaths in a region due to pollution produced (a) or goods and services consumed (b) in that same region. Darker shading in the off-diagonal cells highlights higher fractions. In each case, the number of attributable deaths that occurred in each region is shown at the top, and the number of worldwide deaths caused directly by pollution produced in each region (a) or indirectly by consumption of products in each region that are produced in that region or elsewhere (b) is shown at the right. Uncertainty ranges for the numbers given here are presented in Extended Data Fig. 5. The regions are defined in Extended Data Fig. 1.

  3. Emissions, changes in air quality and premature mortality embodied in trade.
    Figure 3: Emissions, changes in air quality and premature mortality embodied in trade.

    ac, Maps show differences between production- and consumption-based accounting of SO2 emissions (a; in units of megatonnes of SO2 per year), population-weighted average PM2.5 exposure (b; in units of micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre) or premature mortality due to PM2.5 air pollution (c; deaths per year). In each case, net importers are shown in shades of red and net exporters in shades of blue. Although the emissions embodied in exports from regions such as Latin America, Canada, sub-Saharan Africa and Australia are greater than the emissions embodied in their imports (blue shading in a), the PM2.5 exposure and mortality embodied in imports to those regions are greater than the exposure and mortality embodied in their exports (red shading in b and c). The differences are due to differences in population density (b) and the marginal health impacts of emissions (c) in regions such as China, Europe, India and the ‘rest of Asia’ region (that is, central and southeast Asia), which are the source of many of the goods imported by other regions. The USA, western Europe and the ‘rest of east Asia’ region (including South Korea and Japan) are net importers of pollution, exposure and deaths. Note that Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea and Japan are grouped into a single region (‘rest of east Asia’), which tends to overemphasize the effect of trade, in Mongolia in particular.

  4. Summary of global premature mortality due to transported PM2.5 pollution and traded products.
    Figure 4: Summary of global premature mortality due to transported PM2.5 pollution and traded products.

    a, e, Worldwide mortality due to pollution produced (that is, emitted) in each region (a) or related to products consumed in each region (e). b, f, Mortality in each region due to pollution produced in that region (b) or related to products consumed in that region (f). c, g, Mortality in all other regions due to pollution produced in each region (c) or related to products consumed in each region (g). Note that the number of deaths in each region in b and c (f and g) therefore sum to those in the same region in a (e). d, h, Mortality in each region due to pollution produced elsewhere (d) or related to products consumed elsewhere (h). The numbers down the left-hand side of each panel give the number of deaths in 2007 (in units of 105). Error bars denote 95% CIs, determined by uncertainties in the GEOS-Chem-simulated fractional contribution of PM2.5 exposure and in the total PM2.5-related mortality.

  5. Definition of the 13 world regions used here.
    Extended Data Fig. 1: Definition of the 13 world regions used here.
  6. Global distribution of premature mortality in 2007 due to production-related PM2.5 air pollution.
    Extended Data Fig. 2: Global distribution of premature mortality in 2007 due to production-related PM2.5 air pollution.

    ai, Maps show the number of deaths related to air pollution produced (that is, emitted) in the rest of east Asia (a), the rest of Asia (b), Russia (c), eastern Europe (d), Canada (e), the Middle East and north Africa (f), Latin America (g), sub-Saharan Africa (h) and the rest of the world (i).

  7. Global distribution of premature mortality in 2007 due to consumption-related PM2.5 air pollution.
    Extended Data Fig. 3: Global distribution of premature mortality in 2007 due to consumption-related PM2.5 air pollution.

    ai, Maps show the number of deaths related to goods and services consumed in the rest of east Asia (a), the rest of Asia (b), Russia (c), eastern Europe (d), Canada (e), the Middle East and north Africa (f), Latin America (g), sub-Saharan Africa (h) and the rest of the world (i).

  8. Differences in worldwide premature mortality in 2007 between production- and consumption-related PM2.5 air pollution.
    Extended Data Fig. 4: Differences in worldwide premature mortality in 2007 between production- and consumption-related PM2.5 air pollution.

    ad, Maps show the number of deaths worldwide related to consumption in the given region minus the number of deaths worldwide related to production in that region, for China (a), western Europe (b), the USA (c) and India (d).

  9. Uncertainty ranges.
    Extended Data Fig. 5: Uncertainty ranges.

    a, b, Uncertainties relating to Fig. 2. The ranges at the top of each panel represent the 95% CI for the number of attributable deaths in the region indicated by the column. The ranges at the right of each panel represent the 95% CI for the total number of worldwide deaths caused by pollution produced in the region indicated by the row (a) or related to the consumption of products in that region that are produced there or elsewhere (b). Each cell in the grid shows the standard deviation of the fraction of deaths (%); darker shading in the off-diagonal cells highlights larger standard deviations.

  10. Summary of global premature mortality per capita due to transported PM2.5 pollution and traded products.
    Extended Data Fig. 6: Summary of global premature mortality per capita due to transported PM2.5 pollution and traded products.

    a, e, Worldwide mortality due to pollution produced (that is, emitted) in each region (a) or related to products consumed in each region (e). b, f, Mortality in each region due to pollution produced in that region (b) or related to products consumed in that region (f). c, g, Mortality in all other regions due to pollution produced in each region (c) or related to products consumed in each region (g). d, h, Mortality in each region due to pollution produced elsewhere (d) or related to products consumed elsewhere (h). All data are normalized according to regional populations (reported as deaths per one million people). Error bars denote 95% CIs, determined by uncertainties in the GEOS-Chem-simulated fractional contribution of PM2.5 exposure and in the total PM2.5-related mortality.

  11. Methodology framework to access PM2.5 mortality from production and consumption for each region.
    Extended Data Fig. 7: Methodology framework to access PM2.5 mortality from production and consumption for each region.

Tables

  1. Premature mortality related to PM2.5 air pollution in 2007
    Extended Data Table 1: Premature mortality related to PM2.5 air pollution in 2007

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Author information

  1. These authors contributed equally to this work.

    • Qiang Zhang,
    • Xujia Jiang &
    • Dan Tong

Affiliations

  1. Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Earth System Modeling, Department of Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Qiang Zhang,
    • Xujia Jiang,
    • Dan Tong,
    • Steven J. Davis,
    • Hongyan Zhao,
    • Guannan Geng,
    • Tong Feng,
    • Kebin He &
    • Dabo Guan
  2. State Key Joint Laboratory of Environment Simulation and Pollution Control, School of Environment, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Xujia Jiang,
    • Bo Zheng &
    • Kebin He
  3. Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA

    • Steven J. Davis
  4. Energy Systems Division, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Illinois 60439, USA

    • Zifeng Lu &
    • David G. Streets
  5. Laboratory for Climate and Ocean-Atmosphere Studies, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, School of Physics, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Ruijing Ni,
    • Yingying Yan &
    • Jintai Lin
  6. School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z3, Canada

    • Michael Brauer
  7. Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4R2, Canada

    • Aaron van Donkelaar &
    • Randall V. Martin
  8. Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Randall V. Martin
  9. Institute of Energy, Environment, and Economy, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Hong Huo
  10. Resnick Sustainability Institute, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

    • Zhu Liu
  11. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Da Pan
  12. School of Public Health, Fudan University, Shanghai, China

    • Haidong Kan
  13. State Environmental Protection Key Laboratory of Sources and Control of Air Pollution Complex, Beijing 100084, China

    • Kebin He
  14. School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

    • Dabo Guan

Contributions

Q.Z., J.L. and K.H. conceived the study. Q.Z. led the study. Z.Lu and D.G.S. provided emissions data. M.B., A.v.D. and R.V.M. provided PM2.5 exposure data. D.T., H.Z., T.F. and D.G. calculated emissions. G.G. conducted GEOS-Chem simulations. X.J. conducted estimates of health impacts. Q.Z., X.J., S.J.D., G.G. and J.L. interpreted the data. Q.Z., X.J., D.T., S.J.D., H.Z. and G.G. wrote the paper with input from all co-authors.

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to:

Reviewer Information Nature thanks G. Janssens-Maenhout, P. Jha and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Author details

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figures

  1. Extended Data Figure 1: Definition of the 13 world regions used here. (211 KB)
  2. Extended Data Figure 2: Global distribution of premature mortality in 2007 due to production-related PM2.5 air pollution. (608 KB)

    ai, Maps show the number of deaths related to air pollution produced (that is, emitted) in the rest of east Asia (a), the rest of Asia (b), Russia (c), eastern Europe (d), Canada (e), the Middle East and north Africa (f), Latin America (g), sub-Saharan Africa (h) and the rest of the world (i).

  3. Extended Data Figure 3: Global distribution of premature mortality in 2007 due to consumption-related PM2.5 air pollution. (646 KB)

    ai, Maps show the number of deaths related to goods and services consumed in the rest of east Asia (a), the rest of Asia (b), Russia (c), eastern Europe (d), Canada (e), the Middle East and north Africa (f), Latin America (g), sub-Saharan Africa (h) and the rest of the world (i).

  4. Extended Data Figure 4: Differences in worldwide premature mortality in 2007 between production- and consumption-related PM2.5 air pollution. (423 KB)

    ad, Maps show the number of deaths worldwide related to consumption in the given region minus the number of deaths worldwide related to production in that region, for China (a), western Europe (b), the USA (c) and India (d).

  5. Extended Data Figure 5: Uncertainty ranges. (792 KB)

    a, b, Uncertainties relating to Fig. 2. The ranges at the top of each panel represent the 95% CI for the number of attributable deaths in the region indicated by the column. The ranges at the right of each panel represent the 95% CI for the total number of worldwide deaths caused by pollution produced in the region indicated by the row (a) or related to the consumption of products in that region that are produced there or elsewhere (b). Each cell in the grid shows the standard deviation of the fraction of deaths (%); darker shading in the off-diagonal cells highlights larger standard deviations.

  6. Extended Data Figure 6: Summary of global premature mortality per capita due to transported PM2.5 pollution and traded products. (320 KB)

    a, e, Worldwide mortality due to pollution produced (that is, emitted) in each region (a) or related to products consumed in each region (e). b, f, Mortality in each region due to pollution produced in that region (b) or related to products consumed in that region (f). c, g, Mortality in all other regions due to pollution produced in each region (c) or related to products consumed in each region (g). d, h, Mortality in each region due to pollution produced elsewhere (d) or related to products consumed elsewhere (h). All data are normalized according to regional populations (reported as deaths per one million people). Error bars denote 95% CIs, determined by uncertainties in the GEOS-Chem-simulated fractional contribution of PM2.5 exposure and in the total PM2.5-related mortality.

  7. Extended Data Figure 7: Methodology framework to access PM2.5 mortality from production and consumption for each region. (213 KB)

Extended Data Tables

  1. Extended Data Table 1: Premature mortality related to PM2.5 air pollution in 2007 (252 KB)

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. Supplementary Information (3.1 MB)

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, additional references, Supplementary Figures 1-10, Supplementary Tables 5, 7 and 8 (see separate excel files for Supplementary Tables 1-4 and 6).

Excel files

  1. Supplementary Table 1 (18 KB)

    This file contains country lists in the alternate emission inventory and the GTAP model, and the corresponding classification of 13 regions.

  2. Supplementary Table 2 (14 KB)

    This file contains the sources category of the emission inventory in this study.

  3. Supplementary Table 3 (22 KB)

    This file contains mapping structure from emission inventory to GTAP sectors.

  4. Supplementary Table 4 (13 KB)

    This file contains mapping structure from EDGAR sectors to GTAP sectors.

  5. Supplementary Table 6 (12 KB)

    This file contains camparison of transboundary transport of PM2.5 with the HTAP study.

Additional data