Strong Air Pollution Policies Lengthen Life Expectancy: AQLI

NCAP Targets can help increase national life expectancy by as much as 1.7, while 3.1 years for residents of Delhi

Alarmingly, India’s high levels of air pollution have expanded geographically over time. Compared to a couple of decades ago, particulate pollution is no longer a feature of the Indo-Gangetic plains alone. Pollution has increased so much in the states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. For example, the average person in those states is now losing an additional 2.5 to 2.9 years of life expectancy, relative to early 2000. According New data from the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) .

China is an important model showing that policy can produce sharp reductions in pollution in short order. Since the country began its “war against pollution” in 2013, China has reduced its particulate pollution by 29 percent—making up three-quarters of the reductions in air pollution across the world. China’s success demonstrates that progress is possible, even in the world’s most polluted countries. In South Asia, the AQLI data reveal that the average person would live more than five years longer if pollution were reduced to meet the WHO guideline. The benefits of clean air policies are even greater in the region’s pollution hotspots, like Northern India, where 480 million people breathe pollution levels that are ten times worse than those found anywhere else in the world.

“The bad news is that the greatest impacts of air pollution remain concentrated in South Asia. The good news is that governments in this region are recognizing the severity of the problem and are now beginning to respond,” says Ken Lee, the director of the AQLI. “The Government of India’s National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) is an important step towards cleaner air and longer lives, as is the establishment of the new Commission for Air Quality Management in the NCR.”

Some Key Highlights from the report :-

a) Avg life expectancy would be higher by 5.6 years in the 4 south asian countries — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal — if they complied by WHO levels.

b) India is listed as the most polluted country in the world with 480 million living in the IGP as the most impacted as air pollution levels “exceed those found anywhere else in the world by an order of magnitude”. As per the report this 40% of the country’s population is expected to lose more than 9 years of their life is pollution levels persist as what they were in 2019, including residents of mega cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

c) Pollution has now expanded beyond the IGP to states like MP, MH where people can lose 2.5-2.9 years of life expectancy due to aq.

d) In comparison threats from other health risks like Smoking, for instance, reduces life expectancy in these countries by as much as 1.8 years; unsafe water and sanitation by as much as 1.2 years; and alcohol and drug use by about a year of lost life years in the South Asian countries.

e) NCAP Targets can help increase national life expectancy by as much as 1.7, while 3.1 years for residents of Delhi.

New data from the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) underscores the health threat of a world without policy action. Unless global particulate air pollution is reduced to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline, the average person is set to lose 2.2 years off their lives. Residents of the most polluted areas of the world could see their lives cut short by five years or more. Working unseen inside the human body, particulate pollution has a more devastating impact on life expectancy than communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, behavioral killers like cigarette smoking, and even war..

The same clean air policies that can reduce fossil fuel emissions and help reign in climate change can also add up to 5 years onto people’s lives in the most polluted regions while globally adding more than two years onto lives on average.

“During a truly unprecedented year where some people accustomed to breathing dirty air experienced clean air, and others accustomed to clean air saw their air dirty, it became acutely apparent the important role policy has played and could play in reducing fossil fuels that contribute both to local air pollution and climate change,” says Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and creator of the AQLI along with colleagues at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). “The AQLI demonstrates the benefits these policies could bring to improve our health and lengthen our lives.”

According to AQLI’s new report, South Asia is home to the most polluted countries on Earth, with Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan accounting for nearly a quarter of the global population and consistently ranking among the top five most polluted countries in the world. According to AQLI, the estimated impacts are even greater across Northern India, the region that experiences the most extreme levels of air pollution in the world. The residents of this region, which includes the megacities of Delhi and Kolkata, are on track to lose more than nine years of life expectancy if 2019 concentrations persist.


The AQLI is a pollution index that translates particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy. Developed by the University of Chicago’s Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics Michael Greenstone and his team at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), the AQLI is rooted in recent research that quantifies the causal relationship between long-term human exposure to air pollution and life expectancy. The Index then combines this research with hyper-localized, global particulate measurements, yielding unprecedented insight into the true cost of particulate pollution in communities around the world. The Index also illustrates how air pollution policies can increase life expectancy when they meet the World Health Organization’s guideline for what is considered a safe level of exposure, existing national air quality standards, or user-defined air quality levels. This information can help to inform local communities and policymakers about the importance of air pollution policies in concrete terms.


The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) is confronting the global energy challenge by working to ensure that energy markets provide access to reliable, affordable energy, while limiting environmental and social damages. We do this using a unique interdisciplinary approach that translates robust, data-driven research into real-world impacts through strategic outreach and training for the next generation of global energy leaders.

Views expressed here are those of Dr. Seema Javed, a known Environmentalist, Journalist and Communications Expert

Related Articles

Back to top button