• The benefits of clean air outweigh the costs by a long way!

    Editorial by Jos Dings Well at least it is very clear now. In the February Bulletin we had a headline: “This Commission seems no friend of the environment” – the word “seems” can now be replaced by “is”. A classic 1½-page letter by the employers’ federation Unice to the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso was enough to delay badly needed EU follow-up air quality laws.


    What is the situation? We know that Europe has bad air and that 350 000 people die prematurely from it every year. This is not dubious science – studies are accumulating that show that tiny particles from combustion processes have very worrying impacts on lungs, blood and heart. We know we can halve his figure by 2020. We know this will cost €15 billion, and the benefits are €50bn at a very conservative estimate. So we know we are talking very beneficial policy here for Europe as a whole.

    Why do we know this? Because the Clean Air for Europe (Cafe) process, that started four years ago and forms the scientific underpinning of new policies in this field, was one of the most transparent and scientifically sound policy preparation processes Europe has ever seen. Every tiny detail of assumptions and models used was scrutinised and discussed in dozens of stakeholder meetings. This scientific and cost/benefit-inspired approach was, by the way, to a great extent the result of industry demands that wanted future legislation to be justified.

    So what can we learn from this episode? One: industry has a very willing ear with this Commission and being ahead is always better than having to react. Two: although good cost/benefit scores are a prerequisite these days to get any environmental measure off the ground, they by no means form any sort of guarantee for action. Three: economic benefits need to be stressed – if fewer premature deaths are not enough to impress policy makers, maybe extra working days as a result of cleaner air are. And four: in the public debate, those responsible for air of poor quality need to be identified, blamed and shamed.

    Mr Barroso, you could cut the monthly premature death toll from 30 000 to 15 000 by giving the green light to the Cafe programme, a move that would have vast economic benefits. You say you care about competitiveness, yet you are delaying Cafe because of the lobbying efforts of industry. By your own criteria the Cafe process must be acceptable.

    This news story is taken from the July 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.