Estimation of morbidity from air pollution and its economic costs

The evaluation of economic costs related to health effects of air pollution is currently mainly based on estimates of number of premature deaths or years of life lost due to the exposure in a given population. Resulting cost estimates, based on the Value of Statistical Life (VSL) or Value of Life Year Lost (VoLY), are sometimes staggering, but their use in communicating and public discussion is difficult. While the meanings of VSL or VoLY are well accepted among economists, the appreciation of these non-market costs by non-specialists and the general public is low. For such audiences, the direct costs of illnesses (health care costs like hospitalizations and medications), direct non-health care costs (such as social services and childcare), and indirect costs (such as productivity losses), are likely to be more persuasive.

This project will establish a methodology to estimate the costs of morbidity from air pollution for countries and regions to enhance understanding of the economic benefits of actions to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) and other air pollutants and greenhouse gases. This work will look at morbidity impacts, including the non-fatal health effects of air pollution exposure. 

This project is supported by the Coalition’s Action Programme to Address the 1.5˚C Challenge, a programme developed by Coalition partners in response to the IPCC Special Report on 1.5˚C Global Warming which emphasizes the need for early action on all climate forcing emissions, including SLCPs, as part of the pathway to stay well below 2˚C. 


The objectives of this project are to establish a methodology to estimate the economic costs of selected morbidity outcomes of exposure to air pollution in a population and test its application at various geographical scales.  

A focus on the health and economic effects of exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) on diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, asthma and diabetes, will enhance the assessment of economic benefits of mitigation measures not only for short-lived climate pollutants, but also for other greenhouse gases and air pollutants. 

Planned activities

This project will be carried out in stages through our implementing partners, World Health Organization (WHO) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):

  • Developing concentration-response functions (CRFs) to quantify health impacts from ambient air pollution. 
  • Identifying relevant morbidity indicators and assessing their availability and quality for other regions and populations. 
  • Developing a methodology for quantifying health care costs (e.g. hospitalization, medications), direct non-health care costs (e.g. social services, childcare), and indirect costs (e.g. productivity losses) for different world regions (with different level of economic development and data availability).  
  • Computing morbidity impacts and associated costs for selected regions, using background data already available in the GAINS model.  
  • Summarizing the methodology developed by the project, results of implementation in selected countries, and conclusions on the feasibility of the methodology’s application for global analyses.