Environmental investment in India – nice to have or crucial to economic development?

 One often gets the impression that investment into environmental protection is hindering economic development; new analysis however, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, proves this wrong and shows that the social and economic benefits by far outweigh the cost.

By looking at the advanced measures to reduce fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in India the report shows how these measures pay for themselves in a few years by increasing productivity. Furthermore, better air quality and human health can also save cost in other areas. Especially cardiovascular diseases, asthma, and lung cancer are linked to fine particulate matter accumulating in the air – and without additional air pollution controls, its concentrations in many parts of India will more than triple by 2030.

“We compared the costs and benefits of implementing the measures currently specified in Indian air pollution legislation with applying advanced air pollution emission controls that are common in industrialized countries” explains International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis IIASA Program Leader Markus Amann.factory.gif

Current Indian legislation doesn’t not yet have appropriate measures in place to bring PM2.5 levels closer to the WHO guidelines. It is expected that the direct costs of such measures would amount to about half a percent of GDP annually, but eventually fall to even less by 2030. Yet, looking only at direct cost is not taking the whole picture into account. Increased productivity through decreased sick days, lower mortality and extended life expectancy are some of the factors that contribute to increased wealth of an economy.

“Our analysis shows that, once such indirect effects of investments in cleaner air are taken into account, the net impacts on GDP are marginal,” says IIASA research scholar Prof. Warren Sanderson.

IIASA demographer Erich Striessnig adds: “With a comprehensive perspective on development and well-being, the improved longevity more than compensates the loss in per-capita GDP, if measured by the widely used UN’s Human Development Index (HDI).”

While this analysis’ focus is India, a lot of its findings will also be valid in other environments; its something that decision-makers need to be made more aware of: investments into the environment are not some fancy extra, but actually lie right at the heart of development!

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