Group finds health savings in emissions cuts

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A bus stops in front of a no-idling sign in Montreal. Reducing European emissions 30 percent by 2020 - rather than 20 percent - would cost an additional €46 billion a year but would reap €30 billion in health savings, according to two health groups. Photo by Francis Bourgouin/flickr

14 September 2010

Your doctor would approve: €30.5 billion extra in avoided health care costs if Europe shifts emissions reduction target to 30 percent by 2020, according to a new analysis

By Douglas Fischer

Daily Climate editor

Upping the European Union's emissions reduction target from 20 percent to 30 percent would reap €30.5 billion a year in health savings by 2020, according to an analysis released Tuesday by two health groups.

Doctors have been too timid about highlighting the risks to human health from rises in greenhouse gases.
- Dr. Michael Wilks, Standing Committee of European Doctors

The savings come as the air pollutants associated with transportation and power generation - soot, smog and sulfur dioxide - decrease amid efforts to improve efficiency and abandon fossil fuels, according to the analysis.

If Europe were to move to a 30 percent target, the €30.5 billion in health costs avoided in 2020 would be in addition to the estimated €52 billion in public health benefits associated with the current 20 percent target, the study found.

"Cleaner energy and cleaner air, associated with an immediate move to 30 percent domestic cuts in greenhouse gases by 2020, would go a long way to paying for itself in better health throughout Europe," said Génon Jensen, executive director of the Health and Environment Alliance, one of the groups publishing the report. The other group was Health Care Without Harm.

asthma-500The findings go beyond recent European Commission tallies on health benefits, which looked only at the loss of life associated with poor air quality. Tuesday's report looks at the avoided costs of ill health - chronic bronchitis, cardiac and respiratory hospital admissions, asthma and other ailments associated with air pollution.

And the savings could be even higher, the authors note, as no study to date has explored the cost savings of avoiding the floods, heat waves and increases in infectious diseases predicted by climate models.

"Doctors have been too timid about highlighting the risks to human health from rises in greenhouse gases," Dr. Michael Wilks, past president of the Committee of European Doctors, said in a statement.

Ministers from France, the United Kingdom and Germany have called on the European Union to unilaterally move its emissions target from 20 percent below 1990 levels to 30 percent, saying the jump is vital if the continent is to avoid losing the race to develop low-carbon technologies. EU member states are expected to consider the proposal next month.

The European Commission pegged the additional cost of a 30 percent target at €46 billion by 2020, or 0.3 percent of the European Union's gross domestic product.

In the United States, a proposal to cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels has stalled in the Senate, with little prospect of emerging this year.

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Photo of asthma inhaler courtesy wine me up/flickr

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