IN a first attempt to link financial costs to emissions from large power stations, refineries, waste plants and factories, the European Environment Agency calculates that air pollution cost Europe 100-169bn euros in 2009.
It has used government figures and has arrived at the costs by factoring in population densities, health costs, building damage and crop losses from pollutants. By far the biggest single pollutant is CO2, one of the main climate change gases. Costs have been calculated by using the British government's 'marginal abatement costs' — an estimate of what it expects it will cost to cut CO2 emissions in 2020.
Emissions from power plants made up the largest share of the damage costs at 66-112bn euros. Production processes cost 23-28bn euros and manufacturing combustion 8-21bn euros. Sectors excluded from the EEA analysis include transport, households and most farming activities. If these were included the cost of pollution would almost certainly be more than doubled. Half of the total damage cost (between 51bn euros and 85bn euros) was caused by just 191 facilities.
The three great European polluters are Germany, Poland and the UK. And the UK's largest, and most costly polluter is the Drax power station in North Yorkshire in the north of England, which, says the EEA, emits 20.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year and costs the British economy more than 1bn euros a year. Germany has 17 of Europe's top 100 polluting plants while the UK has 16 of them.
While there are stringent laws on air pollution, European governments have found it difficult to cut emissions in areas such as transport, and are mostly in breach of EU laws.
The report is published following a plan announced in March by EU environment commissioner Janez Potocnik to make 2013 the “year of air”. Potocnik says he wants stronger air quality laws across the European Union but many member states are already failing to enforce current rules. The European commission has begun a comprehensive review of existing laws that could lead within a year to changes in the 2008 air quality directive.
Poor air quality has been shown in some studies to lead to nearly 500,000 deaths a year in the EU, while the EEA's upper estimates show that anti-pollution measures could cut premature deaths to 230,000 in 2020.
Germany, with its large industrial facilities and large power plants, is the biggest polluter EU-wide — resulting in a cost of 21.5bn euros — 33.8bn euros of the overall 100-169bn euros bill. Five of the top 10 emitters are German.
The two biggest individual polluters, which are in Poland and Bulgaria, are followed by the largest German brown coal power plant, a 3,000 megawatt facility in Jaenschwalde, in eastern Germany, which is owned by Vattenfall Europe. It was taken into operation in the 1980s, and modernised in the 1990s, but has been a target of environmentalists for years. This month activists from Greenpeace and Oxfam protested in front of the plant, claiming that brown coal is a 'climate killer' and its mining should be stopped.
Vattenfall plans to open five new mines and to build a carbon capture and storage demonstration plant in Jaenschwalde. The other four big Geman polluters are power plants owned by the German energy company RWE. — The Guardian, London