Air pollution continues to harm billions of people on a daily basis, despite efforts by some countries and companies to push for greater use of renewable energy and cleaner fuels.
Particles thrown off by fossil fuel use account for 4.5 million premature deaths each year around the globe, including 1.8 million in China and a million in India, the researchers found.
Compared to other pollutants such as ozone and nitrogen dioxide, the PM 2.5 leads to the greatest health impact and cost due to increased work absences, while nations with large populations typically have a heavier absolute cost burden, according to the report. In 2019, about 91% of the global population lived in places where levels of air pollution exceeded guidelines set by the World Health Organization.
The global cost for 2018 was $2.9 trillion, the report estimated.
By far the most costly pollutant is microscopic fine particulate matter, which accounts for more than two trillion dollars per year in damages, measured in health impacts, missed work days and years lost to premature death.
Some 40,000 children die every year before their fifth birthday due to PM 2.5, which also leads to two million preterm births annually and twice as many cases of asthma.
In 2013, the World Health Organization classified it as a cancer-causing agent.
The new report used global datasets for surface-level concentrations of the three main pollutants analysed, and then calculated health and cost impacts for 2018.
Estimates of PM 2.5 and NO2 concentrations were based on Earth observation instruments on two NASA satellites that monitor aerosols in the atmosphere.
Deaths, years of life lost and years lived with disability due to PM 2.5 exposure are drawn from the Global Burden of Disease, published in 2018 by PNAS.