Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel cars cause about 10,000 premature deaths in Europe each year, according to a new study. Half of these deaths result from cars exceeding EU emissions limits, putting the cost in human lives from Europe’s dieselgate scandal at 5000 a year. The study was conducted by researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in conjunction with the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Department of Space, Earth & Environment at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.
It found that the highest number of premature deaths attributable to the fine particulate matter emitted by diesel cars was in Italy, followed by Germany, France and the U.K – countries with large populations and a high share of diesel cars and vans. Besides the number of premature deaths, the research highlights the number of lives that would have been saved if diesel cars emitted the same amount of NOx as petrol cars and if automakers had not routinely broken their emissions limits.
“If diesel car emissions were as low as petrol car emissions, three-quarters or about 7,500 premature deaths could have been avoided” said IIASA researcher Jens Borken-Kleefeld.
In 2015 Volkswagen admitted that it had been cheating on its emissions tests by activating pollution controls during testing but deactivating them once cars were sold, resulting in real-world NOx emissions being up to 400 times higher than those recorded during certification trials. In an effort to clean up its act, VW announced earlier this week that it will produce an electric version of all 300 across its multi-brand range by 2030 as well as 80 new electric vehicles by 2025. More than half of the planned $84 billion investment will be spent on manufacturing the lithium-ion batteries needed to power the cars.
In total, about 425,000 people die prematurely from air pollution in the EU, Norway and Switzerland. Several countries, including Britain, France and Norway have announced dates by which the sale of all petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned.