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Cutting Air Pollution Delivers "Big Bang for Your Buck": Economic
Benefits Range from Human Health up to Crops, Forests and Other Key
Nature Services Says Latest GEO Year Book
Countries and cities that adopt air pollution busting measures can
make significant economic savings, the latest GEO Year Book by the
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says.
Economic gains include cuts in premature deaths and lower health care
costs, as the toll from pollution-related diseases is brought down.
Other benefits come from reduced damage to agriculture and ecosystems
like forests, along with less damage to infrastructure and public
buildings from corrosive pollutants.
Energy generation and use is a major source of air pollution.
Overall, the economic benefits of tackling air pollution are likely
to be six times higher than costs of introducing pollution control
measures in factories, power stations and cars, says the Year Book.
The findings come from work by the United States' Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) and the experiences of Mexico City and
The US EPA for example estimates that the benefits of America's Clean
Air Act will be around US$ 690 billion over the period 1990 to 2010.
The Santiago study assessed the financial benefits of compliance with
the Santiago Decontamination Plan at US$ 4 billion over a 15-year
They mirror a new report by the European Commission on achieving
improved air quality standards by 2020.
The Commission estimates that an investment of around seven billion
Euros to reduce air pollution will deliver benefits totalling Euro 42
billion as a result of "fewer premature deaths, less sickness, fewer
hospital admissions and improved labour productivity".
The Commission's study says that "although there is no agreed way to
monetize ecosystem damage, the environmental benefits of reduced air
pollution will also be significant in terms of reduced areas of
ecosystems that may be damaged by acidification, eutrophication and
The report estimates that meeting new targets will reduce damage to
agricultural crops by Euro 0.3 billion a year.
The issue of the costs and benefits of fighting energy-related air
pollution is highlighted in UNEP's Global Environment Outlook Year
The GEO Year Book, including its Feature Focus on Energy and Air
Pollution, is being presented to environment ministers attending the
Special Session of UNEP's Governing Council/Global Ministerial
Environment Forum this week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Here, energy is among the key issues under discussion along with
tourism, and boosting the capacity and technologies in developing
countries so they can meet growing environmental challenges�the so-
called Bali Strategic Plan.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, concluded in 2005, found that
approximately 60 per cent of the ecosystem services examined were
degraded or used unsustainably. In particular, about 25 per cent of
commercially important fish stocks were over-harvested and up to 25
per cent of global fresh water use exceeds long-term accessible
Due to population growth and rising incomes, consumption of fish more
than tripled from 1961 to 2001, rising from 28 to 96 million tonnes.
With a large proportion of fish stocks already over-exploited, a
number of countries are turning to marine fish farms to meet the
rising demand for fish and shellfish.
Marine fish farming can supply rising demand, but sustainable
practices are needed to reduce current levels of environmental
damage. Fertilizer, undigested feed, biological waste and veterinary
drugs used in marine fish farms are released into the oceans and
surrounding waterways. Marine fish farms also create conditions for
the spread of diseases and parasites, and � through the escape of
farmed fish � introduce invasive species.
Climate change is expected to affect food production. Although the
overall global net impact is difficult to predict, it is expected
that many developing countries in tropical regions may suffer
increased climate-related difficulties and increased variability of
While climate change mitigation is necessary to avoid negative
impacts on global food production, adaptive measures will also be
needed, as some degree of climate change is inevitable. A `Green
Planet Revolution' in crops and agricultural technology, with a focus
on crops better suited to changing environmental conditions, could
help reduce negative impacts.
Key Findings on Energy and Pollution from the GEO Year Book 2006
Two thirds of future growth in energy demand is expected to come from
developed countries where at least 1.6 billion people are without
access to electricity in their homes.
Over half of people in developing countries still rely on biofuel,
including wood, dung and agricultural wastes, for cooking and
heating, most of which is burnt indoors.
Between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of the fuel used in households on
biomass stoves is not fully burnt, triggering a wide range of harmful
Globally, indoor air pollution from fuels like charcoal is ranked in
the top ten causes of mortality (or premature deaths) along with
unsafe sex, high blood pressure and lack of malaria control.
Indoor air pollution may be responsible for up to 2.4 million
premature deaths a year.
Key air pollutants, both indoors and outdoors, are fine particles
which are linked with respiratory problems and heart attacks.
In homes burning biomass, particle levels can be between 300 to 3,000
microgrammes per cubic metre. The European Union guideline is 40
microgrammes per cubic metre.
Surveys of Asian cities indicate that 18 have average annual
concentrations of particles above the EU limit.
Outdoor air pollution from industries and vehicles may trigger some
800,000 premature deaths a year with 65 per cent occurring in the
developing countries of Asia.
The Way Forward
The Year Book argues that there are huge efficiency gains possible
from conventional power generation.
Conventional power stations waste between 40-65 and per cent of the
energy generated, losing it as heat.
Combined Heat and Power plants, in which part of the lost heat is
used for industrial processes or as district heating schemes
considerably reduces these losses.
Numerous other technologies are available to reduce harmful
emissions. For example "fabric filters and electrostatic
precipitators" used in the industry and power sector can reduce
particle pollution by as much as 99 per cent.
The Year Book also suggests that renewables, such as wind, solar and
modern biomass-based fuels and electricity generation, are already
competitive with fossil fuels like coal and oil if their wider
environmental, social and fuel security benefits are factored in.
It also highlights the success of micro and mini hydropower systems
for providing much need electricity in rural areas. For example in
Nepal, 150 micro hydropower plants generating two Megawatts of
electricity are providing electricity to 15,000 families.
Biogas, produced by anaerobic digestion of wastes like dung, is also
proving a success story in Nepal. Here 110,000 biogas plants have
been installed for households with a further 20,000 being installed
annually by private firms.
The success of this programme stems from simple, easily copied
designs along with good after-sales service, financial incentives for
small firms and the availability of subsidies of up to US$ 150 per
household backed up by affordable micro-credit schemes.
The Year Book says that cleaner burning fuels, like liquid petroleum
gas and kerosene, can deliver big improvements in indoor air quality
in developing countries. This in turn could lead to huge health gains
for the most vulnerable groups, namely women and children.
A survey of different indoor fuels shows that burning crop wastes
produces about 100 times more particles than using a cleaner fuel
like kerosene or liquid petroleum gas.
In the transport sector, tougher standards known as Euro 6 are being
discussed for heavy duty vehicles in Europe, which could lead to
particulate and nitrogen oxide reductions of between 50 per cent and
90 per cent, alongside big reductions in other pollutants.
Tougher measures are also being adopted in developing countries with
large parts of Latin America and Asia on track to meet lower, but
nevertheless important, new targets mirroring earlier European Union
targets by 2010.
For example, cities like Delhi and Bangkok have shifted vehicle
fleets to cleaner fuels like compressed natural gas or liquefied
Meanwhile new vehicle technologies such as hybrid cars can have a
role. The first ones, introduced in Japan in the late 1990s,
increased fuel efficiency by 11 km per litre. New ones have improved
efficiency by up to 22 km per litre.
There is also renewed interest in blending ethanol and biodiesels
made from crops with petrol and diesel to reduce exhaust emissions.
Nearly 45 per cent of petrol in Brazil, for example, is now ethanol.
Almost a third of all gasoline sold in the United States is blended
However, Africa remains a Continent of concern, with emission
standards absent or almost non-existent, says the Year Book. The main
improvement here has been the phase-out of leaded petrol, which was
effectively achieved at the end of 2005.
The GEO Year Book 2006, the third in this annual series, is available
online at http://www.unep.org/geo/yearbook/
and can be purchased from
The Book is the work of more than 140 experts from across the world.
Details of the 9th Special Session of UNEP's Governing Council/Global
Ministerial Environment Forum can be found at
For More Information Contact: Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office
of the Executive Director, on Tel: +254 20 62 3084; Mobile in Dubai:
+41 79 596 57 37 or 254 733 632 755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@...
Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Information Officer, on Tel: 254
20 623088, Mobile: 254 720 173968, E-mail: elisabeth.waechter@...
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) www.unep
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