Each year, the cost of air pollution is a staggering five trillion dollars, a sum that can be hard to comprehend in its enormity. By way of comparison, there are only one trillion insects on earth, and only 1.4 trillion cubic metres of water.
Air pollution is one of the world’s most serious issues. It causes one in every 10 deaths worldwide, with the problem especially acute in cities. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 87 per cent of all urban areas have unhealthy air.
Despite this alarming statistic, we can be cautiously optimistic about the future. In the past few years, a broad political consensus has emerged and governments across the world are now in agreement on the need for a solution.
Later this year, London will introduce another congestion tax, called the T-charge, that will target older, emissions-heavy vehicles in the existing congestion charge area. If you build a new development in Singapore you have to replace the same amount of greenery that was used. Copenhagen is considering a car-free day each week. In Hamburg, bicycle lanes have been the recipient of major investment, while Milan has offered free public transport into the city to inhabitants who leave their cars behind. Mexico City, Paris, Madrid and Athens, meanwhile, have pledged to ban diesel vehicles by 2025. The Mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, even wants to ban all forms of motorised traffic.
The effects of such measures are immediate. In the early 2000s, Rajshai in Bangladesh was the world’s most polluted city. After the city focused on building sidewalks and bike paths, and coating roads with dust-reducing surfaces, however, its carbon dioxide emissions have halved. Air quality has improved dramatically.
Less conventional solutions have also proven effective. Since 2014, in Beijing, authorities have banned barbecues, with a special police unit tasked with ensuring that meat is only grilled indoors or inhabitants will face a fine.
Although such measures might make us laugh, in the future China may come to be seen as a leading light in environmental protection. More than 300 green eco-cities have already been built in China, all of which have been designed to encourage clean air, environmental respect and sustainable lifestyles.