OECD report: The cost of air pollution and Health impacts of road transport

OECD has published a report in which it analyzes the impacts of road transport. Outdoor air pollution kills more than three million people across the world every year, and causes health problems from asthma to heart disease for many more. This is costing OECD societies plus People’s Republic of China and India an estimated USD 3.5 trillion dollars a year in terms of the value of lives lost and ill health, and the trend is rising. But how much of the cost of those deaths and health problems is due to pollution from cars, trucks and motorcycles on our roads? Initial evidence suggests that in OECD countries, road transport is likely responsible for about half the USD 1.7 trillion total.

Air pollution in OECD countries has fallen in recent years, helped by tighter emission controls on vehicles, but has increased in China and India.

The switch to more polluting diesel vehicles in many countries in part to combat climate change has also added to pollution effects, threatening to arrest the downward trend in emissions from road transport in OECD countries.

So, the main findings are:

-The number of deaths due to outdoor air pollution fell by about 4% in OECD countries between 2005 and 2010, while the number of years of life lost fell even further. But while 20 of the 34 OECD countries achieved progress, 14 did not.

-The number of deaths due to outdoor air pollution in China rose by about 5%, although years of life lost increased by only about 0.5%. China has arguably succeeded in slowing the increase in the effect of air pollution on health, since a reduction in exposure to pollution will have a greater effect on years of life lost than on the number of deaths.

-India registered an increase of about 12% in the number of deaths and about 3% in years of life lost. Although the number of deaths in India is only just over half the number in China, the trend in India is increasing faster.

-The cost of the health impact of outdoor air pollution in OECD countries, both deaths and illness, was about USD 1.7 trillion in 2010. Available evidence suggests that road transport accounts for about 50% of this cost, or close to USD 1 trillion.

-The best available estimate of the economic cost of the health impacts of outdoor air pollution in China and India combined is larger than the OECD total – about USD 1.4 trillion in China and about USD 0.5 trillion in India in 2010. There is insufficient evidence to estimate the share of road transport in these figures but even if it is less than half, it nonetheless represents a large burden.