On September 8, the World Bank issued a report on the social and economic consequences of air pollution: “The Cost of Air Pollution – Strengthening the Economic Case for Action”.

The percentage of the world population that lives in areas that exceed the Air Quality Guideline of the World Health Organization (WHO) rose to 87% between 1990 and 2013. Air pollution is recognized as a major global health risk. In 2013, 5.5 million people died prematurely as a result of exposure to air pollution (especially due to heart, lung, and respiratory diseases). This corresponds to 1 in every 10 total deaths, rendering air pollution the fourth leading cause of premature deaths worldwide behind smoking, diet, and metabolic diseases.

The cost of increased health care, premature deaths, and lost labor income are calculated from the perspective of welfare (what are people willing to pay for quality of life) and income (what is the economic effect of lost productivity, natural and human capital). In 2013, the worldwide cost of exposure to air pollution amounted to USD 5.11 trillion (€4,560,000,000,000). Welfare losses are highest in developing economies, especially the densely populated areas in South East Asia and the Pacific (up to 7.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)).

The report calculates the economic impact of air pollution to motivate governments to take action against air pollution. To this end, the report illustrates the cost-effectiveness of investing in air quality. Rules issued by the US government towards improving air quality were consistently the most economically beneficial of all federal regulations. Between 2004 and 2014, an estimated USD 37-44 billion was spent to limit air pollution. A total of USD 157-777 billion in savings due to reduced health risks as a consequence of exposure to fine dust was generated; benefits outweighed the costs by a ratio of more than 4 to 1!