World Bank lays bare the $5 trillion cost of dirty air

Jake Cordell
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Air pollution is the fourth-biggest cause of premature deaths across the world
Air pollution is the fourth-biggest cause of premature deaths across the world (Source: Getty)

A landmark study from the World Bank has found deaths as a result of air pollution cost the world more than $5 trillion (£3.8 trillion) a year.

The new report, published yesterday, highlighted the staggering economic impact of one of the world’s top killers and prompted calls for government action from economists and conservationists.

The World Bank, which funds projects in the developing world, calculated the 5.5 million premature deaths caused by air pollution in 2013 cost a total of $5.1 trillion in terms of total welfare losses..

“That is about the size of the GDP of India, Canada, and Mexico combined — a sobering wake-up call,” the institution said.

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“Air pollution is not just a health risk, it is also an economic burden. By causing illness and premature death, pollution reduces quality of life. By causing a loss of productive labour, pollution also reduces output and incomes.

“The economic costs associated with this elevated risk are a real drag on development.

Air pollution is the fourth biggest cause of premature deaths in the world, rising to third place in lower income countries and areas undergoing rapid industrialisation.

China is estimated to have lost $1.6 trillion, ten per cent of its GDP, as a result of the 1.6m premature deaths from air pollution in 2013. The UK and the US, by contrast, lost around three per cent of their potential GDP.

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The World Bank added: “Apart from the sheer magnitude of the costs, the disproportionate impacts on the poorest segments of the population make air pollution a threat to shared and inclusive prosperity.”

Friends of the Earth joined the World Bank in pointing out how dirty air can also have longer-term economic costs, particularly for cities that fail to keep pollution in check.

Polluted places are less productive, see fewer tourists, and put off potential workers,” said Oliver Hayes, clean air campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

The World Bank said it hopes the findings “strengthen the business case for governments to act ambitiously in reducing pollution.”