Air pollution costing global economy €143bn – World Bank

Air pollution is costing more than $160 billion (€143 billion) a year in lost productivity, according to new data released by the World Bank. The data also show that air pollution has its greatest impact in poorer countries.

The World Bank publishes its Little Green Data Book every year, charting the exposure to harmful pollutants in more than 200 countries. The analysis techniques used for this year’s edition have moved up a level in accuracy by separating micro-particles (PM2.5) from standard particulate matter (PM10), as PM2.5 penetrate deep into the human respiratory system and can cause severe illness.

But the World Bank has taken its findings a step further in ‘monetising’ pollution levels. It has done this by working out the loss of productivity to businesses caused by death and disability from air pollution that affects the labour force. Its calculation, based on 2010 figures, was that global lost productivity was more than $161 billion, of which $89 billion was in low- and middle-income countries.

Transport is one of the principal causes of air pollution, notably through diesel emissions. T&E has criticised the European Commission for failing to set emissions limits for construction equipment that are equivalent to existing limits on trucks. It has also highlighted that modern diesel cars are emitting up to 22 times more nitrogen oxides when driven on the road than the allowed limits in obsolete tests. Nitrogen dioxide causes a range of short-term health effects, like asthma, and longer-term effects including lung cancer. T&E also highlighted that modern gasoline direct injection engines emit more particle numbers than diesels.

The World Bank says poor air quality claims the lives of more than 7 million people, 90% of who live in low- and middle-income countries. In addition, almost 84% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines.