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Household contributions to and impacts from air pollution in India


Airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is the largest environmental risk factor for premature mortality worldwide, and the probable cause of several hundred thousand premature deaths every year in India. Indian households contribute to ambient PM2.5 directly from several sources, including biomass-burning cook stoves and transport, and indirectly through the manufacturing of products triggered by their purchases. Here, we quantify consumption-based PM2.5 contributions from, as well as the mortality burden suffered by, urban and rural households by income deciles. Indirect PM2.5 emissions contribute almost twice as much to ambient PM2.5 concentrations as direct emissions from biomass cook stoves. We find that the impacts are distributed differently from contributions. We show that the mortality risk from indirect sources falls disproportionately on lower-income households. This suggests that industry‐wide pollution controls can reduce inequity in the impacts of ambient air pollution. However, as low-income households face an order of magnitude higher mortality risks from indoor air pollution, clean cooking fuels remain the most effective way to reduce the number of premature deaths from air pollution in India.

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Fig. 1: Methods overview.
Fig. 2: Contribution of aggregate household consumption by income decile to the ambient concentration of PM2.5 in 2010.
Fig. 3: Contribution of urban and rural households to the ambient PM2.5 concentration in 2010.
Fig. 4: Who pollutes and who suffers as a function of income.
Fig. 5: The effect of alternative policies, CC versus MCO, on the contributions to and the impact of PM2.5 pollution by income decile.

Data availability

The datasets underlying the plots are available in the IIASA DARE repository (


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We thank M. Amann, W. Schöpp and P. Purohit for discussions; and J. Janke for her contributions to the transport analysis. This work was partially funded by the contributions of the National Member Organizations of IIASA.

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Authors and Affiliations



G.K. and N.D.R. designed the research. G.K., J.M. and F.W. conducted the modelling. S.P. and N.D.R. provided and interpreted survey data. N.D.R. led the writing and all of the authors contributed to the writing and editing.

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Correspondence to Fabian Wagner.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Zoe Chafe, Anil Markandya and Christopher Tessum for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Rao, N.D., Kiesewetter, G., Min, J. et al. Household contributions to and impacts from air pollution in India. Nat Sustain 4, 859–867 (2021).

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