Environmental policy tools and evaluation

Valuing morbidity impacts


An underlying motive for many environmental policies is to reduce possible risks to human health. Hence, it is of major importance to establish a “correct” image of the economic value that the benefits in terms of health improvements represent. This page provides information on OECD’s work to help countries value changes in mortality. Here the focus is on changes in morbidity – changes in illnesses that do not cause death.


OECD has done, and is doing, much work to help policy makers in this regard. The book Cost-Benefit Analysis and the Environment: Recent Developments 2006 from 2006 discussed recent developments in the area of policy assessments and reviewed conceptual and methodological developments in this regard.


In 2010, A review of recent policy-relevant findings from the environmental health literature was published. The report, prepared by Alistair Hunt of the University of Bath, addressed questions such as: What are the most important environmental health impacts? What are the policy appraisal needs? To what extent are these needs currently being met? If current policy needs are not being met, why is that the case, and how can we ensure that they are met in the future? It also summarises the current health unit value estimates in relation to their availability for use in decision processes.


The same author also prepared a report on Policy interventions to address health impacts associated with air pollution, unsafe water supply and sanitation, and hazardous chemicals, published in 2011. That report reviewed the recent empirical literature relating to the quantification and valuation of the human health impacts of air pollution, hazardous chemicals, and unsafe water and sanitation, and their use in cost-benefit analysis. For each of these three environmental hazards, the nature and range of the health impacts were identified. The extent to which these impacts can, and have been, quantified and valued in monetary terms, was described. The use of this data in public policy-centred cost-benefit analysis was also evaluated.

The latter report fed in to OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050, which was published in 2012. One out of 6 chapters in that Outlook discussed health impacts of environmental policies, with model-based estimates of how mortality and morbidity caused by environmental harm can develop in the coming decades. Without new policies, by 2050, air pollution is set to become the world’s top environmental cause of premature mortality under the Outlook Baseline scenario.


Air pollution concentrations in some cities, particularly in Asia, already far exceed World Health Organization safe levels. By 2050, the number of premature deaths from exposure to particulate matter is projected to more than double to reach 3.6 million a year globally, with most deaths occurring in China and India. Because of their ageing and urbanised populations, OECD countries are likely to have one of the highest premature death rates from ground-level ozone, second only to India.


The burden of disease related to exposure to hazardous chemicals is significant worldwide, but more severe in non-OECD countries where chemical safety measures are still insufficient. Yet, non-OECD countries are projected to greatly increase chemicals production, with the BRIICS overtaking the OECD in global sales by 2050 under the Baseline.


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