Air pollution ‘costs UK economy £54 billion a year’

Indoor and outdoor air pollution costs European economies as much as US$1.6 trillion (£1.05 trillion) each year in deaths and diseases according to a new study published by the World Health Organisation today (April 28).

The World Health Organisation estimates that air pollution costs the UK economy approximately £54 billion a year

The World Health Organisation estimates that air pollution costs the UK economy approximately £54 billion a year

The figure is the estimated cost of the approximate 600,000 premature deaths and diseases caused by air pollution in 2010 in the 53 WHO European Region countries, and is nearly the equivalent to one-tenth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the entire European Union in 2013, WHO said.

And, individually, the UK is estimated by WHO to suffer $83 billion (c.£54 billion) in economic costs associated with air pollution.

This accounts for 3.7% the GDP in Britain, where 29,000 people each year are currently estimated to die prematurely from air pollution.

The estimates are made in today’s ‘Economic cost of the health impact of air pollution in Europe’ report, which WHO claims is the first assessment of the economic burden of deaths and diseases resulting from outdoor and indoor air pollution in the 53 European Region countries.

WHO states that the $1.6 trillion figure “corresponds to the amount societies are willing to pay to avoid these deaths and diseases with necessary interventions”.

In other European countries, air pollution cost Germany $145 billion (c.£94 billion) in 2010, which was 4.5% of its GDP, while the cost in France was $53 billion (c.£35 billion), which is 2.3% of its GDP.

The highest cost in terms of GDP is in Bulgaria, which WHO estimates spent 29.5% of its GDP on the economic costs of air pollution fatalities. Air pollution costs Norway the least in Europe, meanwhile, at 0.3% of its GDP – or $864 million (c.£565 million).

In the calculations, a value is attached to each death and disease, independent of the age of the person and which varies according to the national economic context.

Mid-term review

WHO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have published the report to mark the start of a three-day mid-term review meeting in Israel on European environment and health. The meeting will feature more than 200 representatives from European countries and international organisations.

Commenting on the report, WHO regional director for Europe, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, said: “Curbing the health effects of air pollution pays dividends. The evidence we have provides decision-makers across the whole of government with a compelling reason to act. If different sectors come together on this, we not only save more lives but also achieve results that are worth astounding amounts of money.

“Curbing the health effects of air pollution pays dividends. The evidence we have provides decision-makers across the whole of government with a compelling reason to act”

“Cross-sectoral work is the backbone of the environment and health process, which was initiated 26 years ago, and it is even more relevant today in the discussions taking place at this meeting in Haifa.”

Mr Christian Friis Bach, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), said: “Reducing air pollution has become a top political priority. Air quality will be a key theme at the next Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference in Georgia in 2016.

“Fifty-one countries are today finding joint solutions in the framework of the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution. This work must be strengthened to reduce air pollution even further and extended to more countries and to other regions.”

Related Links:

-World Health Organisation: ‘Economic cost of deaths from air pollution (outdoor and indoor) per country, as a percentage of GDP’