Air Pollution: The Billion Dollar Industry

The World Bank has released a new report highlighting the fact that air pollution costs world governments billions upon billions every year and ranks among the leading causes of death worldwide.

The estimates — drawn from a number of sources, including the World Health Organization’s most recently completed data sets compiled in 2013 — can for the first time begin to examine the overall welfare cost of air pollution.

Specifically, researches studied the amount of money that world governments must spend on health emergencies, long term illnesses and chronic conditions caused by air pollution. They also took into account missed work and unemployment subsidies.

The report finds that, in terms of the economy, the burden is extremely high.

To be sure, some countries come out of this analysis relatively well off. For example, Iceland only loses $3 million of its gross domestic product to air pollution. Given that the country has a relatively small population and a slight industrial profile, that’s probably not that surprising though.

Other countries, like Liberia, performed relatively well despite their low levels of economic development. Several African nations also have low overall air pollution impact costs. Despite mid-to-high populations, infrastructure is comparatively low density in places like Malawi and Zimbabwe, so perhaps this isn’t that surprising either.

It’s when we get to rapidly developing and “developed” nations that the costs really start to mount up. For example, the United States is estimated to lose $45 billion every year due to air pollution, while the UK loses $7.6 billion annually. Germany comes in at $18 billion, though it will be interesting to see how the country’s renewable energy strategy might alter that figure over the coming years.

China, one of the most rapidly developing nations in the world, is estimated to be losing a staggering 10 percent of its overall GDP, while India is not far behind at roughly eight percent.

Financial losses will, however, seem trivial when we look at the potential human cost of air pollution.

The World Bank estimates that global air pollution kills roughly five and a half million people every year, or to put that another way: it will kill one out of every ten people worldwide.

Air pollution is now the fourth leading cause of premature death in the world and, as the Guardian points out, it actually causes “six times the number of deaths caused by malaria,” a fact that highlights the threat of air pollution most starkly.


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