The cost of air pollution: Health impacts of road transport
Outdoor air pollution kills more than 3.5 million people a year globally, far more than was previously estimated.
Air pollution has now become the biggest environmental cause of premature death, overtaking poor sanitation and a lack of clean drinking water. In most OECD countries, the death toll from heart and lung diseases caused by air pollution is much higher than the one from traffic accidents.
The OECD has estimated that people in its 34 Member countries would be willing to pay USD 1.7 trillion to avoid deaths caused by air pollution. Road transport is likely responsible for about half.
Air pollution in OECD countries has fallen in recent years, helped by tighter emission controls on vehicles, but it has increased in China and India as rapid growth in traffic has outpaced the adoption of tighter emission limits. The switch to more polluting diesel vehicles in many countries threatens to arrest the downward trend in emissions from road transport in OECD countries.
It establishes this estimate by multiplying the “value of statistical life” (derived by aggregating individuals’ willingness to pay to secure a small reduction in the risk of premature death) by the number of deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution, as released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2010.
The number of deaths due to outdoor air pollution fell by about 4% in OECD countries between 2005 and 2010. But while 20 of the 34 OECD countries achieved progress, 14 did not.
The number of deaths due to outdoor air pollution in China rose by about 5%, in India by about 12% over the same period.
The cost of the health impact of air pollution in OECD countries (including deaths and illness) was about USD 1.7 trillion in 2010.
Available evidence suggests that road transport accounts for about 50% of this cost in the OECD, or close to USD 1 trillion.
In China, the cost of the health impact of air pollution was about USD 1.4 trillion in 2010, and about USD 0.5 trillion in India. There is insufficient evidence to estimate the share of road transport but it nonetheless represents a large burden.
Remove any incentives for the purchase of diesel cars over gasoline cars.
Maintain and tighten regulatory regimes, in particular, vehicle standards regimes such as those currently in place in the European Union. Make test-cycle emissions more similar to the emissions the vehicles cause under normal use.
Invest in more ambitious mitigation programmes, including improved public transport.
Continue the research on the economic value of morbidity impacts of air pollution and on the specific evidence linking it to road transport.
Mitigate the impact of air pollution on vulnerable groups, such as the young and the old.