Environment and health economics


Integrating economic evidence in environmental health policy 

Evidence on the burden of disease of environmental health determinants provides a strong basis for designing policies in many sectors that promote health and reduce exposure to harmful substances.

Data on the economic costs and benefits of such policies (including the costs of inaction) provide additional compelling arguments for investing in disease prevention and are thus of high political importance for policy- and decision-makers. 

Member States called for proper consideration of the economic dimension of environmental health policies at the latest ministerial conferences on environment and health (Budapest in 2004 and Parma in 2010), noting the particular urgency of this topic during times of economic downturn. 

In response to this call for action, WHO has begun promoting the use of economic evidence to identify the most effective policies for environment and health, and to strengthen the case for such policies.

Current practice and challenges

Economic methods are applied increasingly to translate health benefits into economic value or to compare the performance of alternative policies in areas such as climate change, outdoor air pollution, transport, water and sanitation. However, economic assessments are not always robust, and economic evidence is still incomplete, for example with regard to the impacts of noise pollution and asbestos.

Key challenges include:

  • the generation of evidence to fill current knowledge gaps; 
  • advancing the interpretation of economic data; 
  • harmonization of approaches and ways in which economic tools are applied and disseminated; and 
  • increasing the motivation and capacity of decision-makers to apply economic evidence.