Trend: Efforts to measure the real costs of pollution are yielding some results that could influence policy-makers.
GreenBiz News reports that preventing air pollution lowers health care costs, and reduces damage to agriculture, ecosystems, and infrastructure such as buildings. Excerpts below.
Countries and cities that adopt air pollution busting measures can make significant economic savings, says the latest GEO Year Book from the United Nations Environment Program.
Economic gains include cuts in premature deaths and lower health care costs, as the toll from pollution-related diseases is brought down.
Other benefits come from reduced damage to agriculture and ecosystems like forests, along with less damage to infrastructure and public buildings from corrosive pollutants.
Energy generation and use is a major source of air pollution. Overall, the economic benefits of tackling air pollution are likely to be six times higher than costs of introducing pollution control measures in factories, power stations and cars, says the Year Book.
The findings come from work by the United States' Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the experiences of Mexico City and Santiago, Chile.
The US EPA for example estimates that the benefits of America's Clean Air Act will be around $690 billion over the period 1990 to 2010.
The GEO Indicators, which present a snapshot of humanity’s progress in managing our planetary habitat, support the findings that rising greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in ecosystem change, such as accelerating ice thickness losses of mountain glaciers, and that increasing exploitation of fisheries stocks is leading to serious depletion.
However, they also show that where action has been taken, there are positive results. The global consumption of chlorofluorocarbons, for instance, continues to decrease. The proportion of the Earth's surface affording some form of environmental protection to biodiversity continues to increase.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, concluded in 2005, found that approximately 60% of the ecosystem services examined were degraded or used unsustainably. In particular, about 25% of commercially important fish stocks were over-harvested and up to 25% of global fresh water use exceeds long-term accessible supplies.
The Year Book argues that there are huge efficiency gains possible from conventional power generation.
Conventional power stations waste between 40%-65% of the energy generated, losing it as heat.
Combined Heat and Power plants, in which part of the lost heat is used for industrial processes or as district heating schemes considerably reduces these losses.
Numerous other technologies are available to reduce harmful emissions. For example "fabric filters and electrostatic precipitators” used in the industry and power sector can reduce particle pollution by as much as 99%.
The Year Book also suggests that renewables, such as wind, solar and modern biomass-based fuels and electricity generation, are already competitive with fossil fuels like coal and oil if their wider environmental, social and fuel security benefits are factored in.
It also highlights the success of micro and mini hydropower systems for providing much need electricity in rural areas. For example in Nepal, 150 micro hydropower plants generating two megawatts of electricity are providing electricity to 15,000 families.
Biogas, produced by anaerobic digestion of wastes like dung, is also proving a success story in Nepal. Here 110,000 biogas plants have been installed for households with a further 20,000 being installed annually by private firms.
The success of this program stems from simple, easily copied designs along with good after-sales service, financial incentives for small firms and the availability of subsidies of up to $150 per household backed up by affordable micro-credit schemes.