Reducing air pollution to levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) could boost the UK economy by £1.6billion and prevent 17,000 early deaths, a report claims.
The research said cutting pollution to WHO guideline levels – which are stricter than UK legal limits – 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.
It also suggests that workers would benefit from £900 million more in annual earnings due to being in work more.
The £1.6 billion boost to the UK economy from reductions in early deaths, sickness absence and lower productivity is in addition to savings to the NHS and social care budgets that cleaning up the air can deliver, the report said.
The research by CBI Economics, commissioned by the Clean Air Fund, looked at the financial benefits of reducing levels of toxic pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and tiny particles known as PM2.5.
These 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 to the tune of £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.
“Clean air can make us all wealthier”
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.”
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.”
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.