Climate action could save Europe billions in health costs

Posted: 2 October 2008

Health savings of up to €25 billion more than currently predicted could be achieved every year in Europe if the European Union immediately optedfor stronger climate policies, according to a new study published by health and environment NGOs.

The findings show that raising the EU's 2020 target for domestic greenhouse gas emission cuts from 20 to 30 per cent in line with the recommendations of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would produce savings, resulting from better health, valued at between 6.5-25 billion euros per year.

These estimates are based on economic evaluations of loss of life and health, working days lost and hospital costs. The findings predict that moving the target to 30 per cent would mean a reduction in hospital admissions of 8,000 per year, would cut cases of chronic bronchitis by 5,300 in 2020 and would result in two million fewer work days lost per year.

The predicted health savings are over and above the benefits of the European Union's existing scenario of a 20 per cent target. The current predictions by the EU suggest savings of €51 billion, but the report shows that raising the target to 30 per cent could increase the savings to as much as €76 billion per year.

Génon Jensen, Executive Director of Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) says: "Data clearly show that action to control global warming by reducing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions brings major benefits to health. This potential alone makes a case for immediately moving the European target to at least 30 per cent domestic cuts of greenhouse gases by 2020. The European Union should be showing leadership on this crucial determinant of our future."

Premature deaths

The European Commission's impact assessment estimated that currently every year 369,000 people die prematurely due to air pollution, and that premature deaths, health care and medication associated with air pollution amount to 3-9 per cent of EU Gross Domestic Product.

"Until now the discussion on climate change has been all about costs to industry and the economy, while costs of climate pollution to the society have largely been neglected", adds Delia Villagrasa, Senior Advisor to WWF. "It is essential to see that measures to promote cleaner sources of energy and reduce fossil fuel consumption will not only contribute to control climate change but will also cut air pollution and improve quality of life for European citizens."

The NGOs say that the current debate on the 'EU climate and energy package', gives Europe the opportunity to lead to way to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. They call on the European Parliament to be ambitious and go for the 30 per cent cut.

"The report clearly demonstrates what academics and NGOs have said before: action on climate change produces win-win-win scenarios. Tougher targets means a win for the planet, a win for European citizen's health and a win for industry in reducing air pollution control cost," said Tomas Wyns ETS policy officer,the Climate Action Network Europe.

The report was written by Dr Mike Holland, an independent consultant who has worked with the European Commission and the WorldHealth Organization on similar cost-benefit analyses. It was commissioned by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Climate Action Network Europe (CAN-E) and WWF.