Thousands of lives would be saved and UK workers could see a £900 million boost to their annual earnings if the Government cracked down on air pollution, a new report claims.
Cutting pollution to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines — stricter than current UK limits — could prevent 17,000 early deaths a year of working age people, according to research by CBI Economics.
It said such a move could also give the UK economy a £1.6 billion annual boost, from reductions in early deaths, sickness absence and lower productivity – in addition to savings to the NHS and social care budgets that cleaning up the air can deliver.
The research, commissioned by the Clean Air Fund, suggests that workers would benefit from £900 million more in annual earnings due to being in work more.
And it would save the loss of three million working days a year from people taking time off with illness or to care for sick children as a result of air pollution, the report said.
Jane Burston, executive director of the Clean Air Fund, said: ‘We know clean air makes us healthier, but our research shows it can make us all wealthier too.
‘If businesses and government work together to ensure clean air for all, we can protect our health and re-energise the economy at this critical time.
‘Ministers must commit to binding targets to cut air pollution in line with WHO guidelines by 2030.’
The WHO leader has previously compared breathing polluted air to drinking dirty water, warning Metro.co.uk that the issue will cost trillions worldwide.
The new report by CBI Economics, the economic analysis arm of the business body, looked at the financial benefits of reducing levels of toxic pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and tiny particles known as PM2.5.
Those pollutants cause a range of health impacts, including raising the risk of asthma, heart attacks and strokes, and are linked to health conditions such as lung disease and cancer and can harm children’s development.
As well as calculating the economic impact on the UK as a whole, it also looked in detail at the boost to four major cities, with London predicted to see a £480 million benefit.
Manchester could see economic benefits of around £28 million from the stricter air pollution limits, while for Birmingham the figure is £25 million and in Bristol it would be £7 million, the report suggests.
The Clean Air Fund is calling on the Government to include a legally binding commitment to meet the WHO air pollution standards by 2030 in the Environmental Bill which is due to be debated in Parliament this autumn.
Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the CBI, said: ‘Not only is there a clear moral responsibility to address air pollution and the impact it has on human health and the environment, there’s also a striking economic rationale.
‘That is why the CBI has been absolutely clear that a focus on a green recovery should be central to our Covid-19 response.’
She said there were ‘incredible opportunities’ from shifting to a greener economy, such as mass energy efficiency programmes and new sustainable transport infrastructure, and that improving air quality should be a key part of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
She added: ‘With air pollution hitting the balance sheets of businesses across the country, and cutting the earnings of their employees, cleaning up our air would help us to lead healthier and more productive lives, while delivering a green jobs boost for the economy.’
An Environment Department (Defra) spokesperson said: ‘The World Health Organisation has praised our Clean Air Strategy as an example for the rest of the world to follow – and we continue to take robust and comprehensive action to tackle emissions in the UK.
‘But we know there is more to do, which is why through our landmark Environment Bill we have committed to setting ambitious targets to improve air quality in the long term – and address the concentration of damaging fine particulate matter.’
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