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Climate change may cause 60,000 extra premature deaths in 2030, study says

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If future climate change is not addressed, then its effect on global air pollution could result in 60,000 extra premature deaths in the year 2030, according to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This bleak picture highlights how climate change could wreak havoc over the coming years, estimating 260,000 extra deaths for the year 2100. The problem of air pollution is already a significant one. According to estimates from the World Health Organization, roughly 7 million people died in 2012 as a result of being exposed to air pollution.

"As climate change affects air pollutant concentrations, it can have a significant impact on health worldwide, adding to the millions of people who die from air pollution each year," Jason West, from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said in a statement on Monday.

West led the research at UNC-Chapel Hill alongside Raquel Silva, a former graduate student who was also the first author of the study. In a release, UNC-Chapel Hill explained how West and Silva worked. They used a collection of several global climate models in order to "determine the number of premature deaths that would occur" as a result of ozone and particulate matter in 2030 and 2100.

With each model, the projected changes in ground level air pollution that could be attributed to future climate change were assessed. These changes were then overlaid spatially across the global population, with population growth and "expected changes in susceptibility to air pollution" accounted for.

Five out of eight models predicted that more premature deaths would occur in 2030, with seven out of nine models predicting more premature deaths in 2100.

"Our finding that most models show a likely increase in deaths is the clearest signal yet that climate change will be detrimental to air quality and health," West said. "We also collaborated with some of the world's top climate modeling groups in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan and New Zealand, making this study the most comprehensive yet on the issue," he added.

Bill Collins, professor of climate sciences at the University of Reading in the U.K., was a co-author of the study. "Our new study shows that as well as the direct health benefits of reducing climate change, taking action on climate can also improve air pollution," he said. "Reducing the burning of fossil fuels is therefore a win-win for both climate and air quality."