Visualizing the economic and health benefits of environmental measures: a winning combination

“Visualizing” both the health and economic gains can help persuade policy-makers to improve environmental health and obtain government support, according to participants at the Second Symposium on Environmental Health and Economics, held on 14–15 October 2013 in Bonn, Germany.

Proving that interventions to protect health from air pollution, chemicals and climate change can not only save lives but also bring a return on investment, and showing that inaction can be very costly are powerful arguments for decision-making, especially as austerity measures are squeezing budgets.

Examples presented at the Symposium

  • Greece could save up to €2 billion from reducing mortality by limiting the use of biomass for residential heating, which was recently much increased due to higher fuel taxes following the economic downturn.
  • In the European Union (EU), a 20% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions would lead to an estimated 10–15% reduction in harmful toxins pollutants from the 1990 baseline by 2020, with reduced health damage costs of €12–29 billion.
  • Controlling environmental exposure to mercury to protect children’s brain development could save the EU €8–9 million per year.

Economic evidence for environmental health decision-making

Economic evidence needs to be more widely used in environmental health decision-making. This includes better, more transparent and harmonized use of existing economic tools, a clear explanation of assumptions and the limitations of results, the production of reliable data and success stories at the national and local levels, and the timely engagement of finance, planning, transport and trade ministries, along with those for health and the environment.

The recently established WHO Environmental Health Economics Network (EHEN) will use its members’ expertise and experience to promote such work, in preparation for WHO’s Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, planned for 2016.
40 participants – including representatives of countries, United Nations agencies, the European Environment Agency, civil-society think tanks and the mass media – took part in the two-day Symposium, organized by WHO/Europe’s European Centre for Environment and Health with financial support from the Federal Government of Germany.