The first ever study of the economic cost of air pollution in the WHO Europen Region was published on Tuesday 28 April. The study covers 53 countries, from Albania to Uzbekistan and it estimates a staggering US$ 1.6 trillion is the economic cost of the approximate 600 000 premature deaths and of the diseases caused by air pollution in 2010. The amount is nearly equivalent to one tenth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the entire European Union in 2013.
The study uses the methodology applied in a 2014 report by OECD and makes the calculations based on the most recent economic estimates of the health impacts of air pollution. The economic value of deaths and diseases due to air pollution – US$1 600 000 000 000 – corresponds to the amount societies are willing to pay to avoid these deaths and diseases with necessary interventions. In these 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.
Over 90% of citizens in the Region are exposed to annual levels of outdoor fine particulate matter that are above WHO’s air quality guidelines. This accounted for 482 000 premature deaths in 2012 from heart and respiratory diseases, blood vessel conditions and strokes, and lung cancer. In the same year, indoor air pollution resulted in an additional 117 200 premature deaths, five times more in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.
“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”, says Mr Christian Friis Bach, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). “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.”