While some investors remain on the fence about investing in green practices, I would hope that we can all agree that having clean air to breathe ought to be a sensible request. However, with much of the world facing a pollution crisis, investments in green alternatives need to happen to save our own lives and the planet's as well.
According to the annual State of the Global Air Report published by the Health Effects Institute (HEI), 95 percent of the planet's population is breathing unhealthy air. Long-term exposure to air pollution contributed to just over 6 million deaths in 2016 with strokes, lung disease, lung cancer and heart attacks linked to many of them. After smoking, high blood pressure and poor diet,air pollution is the fourth-highest cause of death worldwide with most deaths occurring in developing countries.
Even though India and China have the most deaths from air pollution worldwide with 1.61 and 1.58 million respectively, the statistics paint a different picture when it comes to age-standardized deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2016, Afghanistan had a far higher death rate per 100,000 inhabitants than India. In fact, polluted air is far more likely to harm Afghans today than insurgent attacks or air strikes. In Kabul, wood and plastic are burned in generators that belch out fumes. They then mix with emissions from lead-filled emissions from the city's snarling traffic jams.
As bad as the situation is in the capital, things are also desperate in more rural areas where people burn solid fuels for cooking and heating in their homes. That situation isn't unique to Afghanistan, however. Even though the stereotypical image of air pollution usually involves smoke stacks, smoggy skyscrapers and noisy traffic jams in mega-cities in India and China, much of it actually emanates from simple countryside stoves and generators.
HEI's report notes that over a third of the global population is exposed to household air pollution and that for them, fine particulate matter levels can exceed air quality guidelines by as much as 20 times. According to the infographic below from Statistia, there is a striking gap between the most and least polluted air around the world.
Developed countries have experienced success in reducing emissions and air pollution levels while poorer nations have fallen behind. The situation isn't totally grim with China in particular introducing tougher pollution controls in recent years. All of those people struggling with indoor air pollution are also experiencing a turn in fortune. Back in 1990, 3.5 billion people were exposed to it and that has now fallen to 2.4 billion despite an increase in the global population. India has tried to eradicate indoor air pollution by providing people with LPG as a cooking fuel as well as expanding and modernizing its electricity grid.
However, there is hope to correct this problem through proper ESG screens of cleaner energy. The share of energy extracted from renewable sources worldwide increased year-over-year from 11 percent to more than 12 percent in 2017.
According to a report by the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), this amounts to 1.8 gigatons less carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Also, total investment in this sector rose by two points, closing 2017 at $280 billion. As their infographic shows, developing countries first overtook the developed countries in 2015. Last year the gap grew to $74 billion. Developing countries are left with no choice really, but to clean up the air that has been polluted from their neighbors.
If green energy investments can rise this much in developing countries, think about what this could mean for investments in the developed world...let's make it happen!