OECD study estimates health impacts of air pollution

The OECD, the Organisation of Economic Development and Cooperation, having as members 34 advanced economies, amongst which also the majority of EU countries, published a report estimating the costs of air pollution on health. The report focuses on air pollution caused by road transport and defines the costs in terms of human lives as well as economic costs of the health impacts of air pollution.

According to the study, outdoor air pollution kills more than 3.5 million people a year globally, far more than was previously estimated. Air pollution has been linked to a number of common diseases, such as cancer, heart diseases and respiratory problems. 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. 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 due to the increasing number of vehicles in the two booming economies.

The OECD has estimated the cost of air pollution on health in OECD countries (including deaths and illness) at about USD 1.7 trillion (€1.2 trillion) in 2010. Evidence suggests that road transport is likely responsible for about 50% of this cost.

The OECD has also suggested a number of recommendations in its study for reducing the impacts of road transport on air pollution.

Some main recommendations include:

  • Maintain and tighten regulatory regimes, in particular, vehicle standards regimes such as those currently in place in the European Union (see Polis article).
  • 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.