It is recognised that reducing greenhouse gas emissions could have important co-benefits for health as a result of improved air quality. A new study estimates that increasing EU emissions reductions targets from 20 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020 could increase such co-benefits worth between 6.5 and 25 billion Euros per year.

Using methods developed under the EU's CAFE1 programme, which aims to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution on people and the environment, the study considered two main scenarios for reducing overall GHG emissions within the EU:

1. 20 per cent by 2020, as considered under the European Commission's proposed climate and energy package.

2. 30 per cent by 2020, which would be considered in the same package if all nations agree under UNFCCC.

Currently, the UNFCCC Bali Agreement calls on developed countries to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by between 25 per cent and 40 per cent by 2020 .

Models indicate that these GHG emission cuts would be likely to come from reduced use of coal, lignite and oil, which are highly polluting fuels. This would simultaneously reduce emissions of regional air pollutants, such as fine particles (PM2.5), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) which are linked to premature death and ill health.

Given that the GHG reductions considered would be made within the EU, there would be no access to the Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanisms, which award emission credits to Member States for investing in pollution reducing measures in non-EU countries. However, co-benefits of these GHG targets through reduced emissions of air pollutants would largely benefit the European population. The study took indicators such as life expectancy, occurrence of respiratory problems, hospital admissions as well as the cost to society of reduced working days, to calculate the economic value of improved health as a result of reduced air pollution.

It was found that by 2020, with no further intervention to mitigate the effects of GHG emissions, additional loss of life would equate to 2.8 million life years, or approximately 7 months of life lost per person on average. However, 218,000 life years per year would be saved by meeting a 20 per cent emissions reduction target. With a 30 per cent cut in emissions, a further 105,000 life years would be saved.

Other benefits from a 30 per cent cut in emissions over a 20 per cent cut would include, year on year: • 5,300 fewer cases of bronchitis • 2,800 fewer hospital admissions • an additional 1 million days when respiratory medication would not be needed by adults and children • savings of 187 million Euros on the cost of working days lost through ill health In addition, earlier work by the European Commission2 estimated that industry would save 10 billion Euros per year in air pollution control costs by switching to less polluting fuels under a 20 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target. It is likely that these saving would increase significantly if the reduction target was increased to 30 per cent.