Economic cost of air pollution in Canada reaches huge $40 billion in one year

While Canada’s air quality is ranked as one of the cleanest in the world, the welfare cost of its air pollution is still significant.

June 14, 2017Paule D
Economic cost of air pollution in Canada reaches huge $40 billion in one year

On June 1st 2017, Canada’s International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) released a report detailing the impact of pollution on its territory and population. The IISD report compiled scientific studies published over the last several years, in a comprehensive overview of the costs of pollution for Canadian citizens, from noise pollution to fertilizer-use.

In an evaluation of 10 pollution categories, air pollution is revealed to stand high above the rest as the most expensive of them all, with regard to welfare cost. In 2015 alone, an estimated $40bn was spent on expenses associated with premature mortality and morbidity of Canadians affected by air pollution - a sum roughly equal to 2.5% of Canada’s net national income. Noise pollution, extreme weather, and pathogens fall behind with respective welfare costs of $3bn, $1.6bn and $895m.

As more data allows for a more comprehensive analysis of pollution, the prevalence and effects of PM2.5 have come under close scrutiny. PM2.5 or fine particulate matter, mostly emitted from manmade sources such as industrial processes or transportation, is a dangerous threat to the general public as its microscopic size allows it to be absorbed into the bloodstream, causing far-reaching health effects.

While a decrease in overall air pollution in Canada has been observed since 1990, PM2.5 levels have remained stable. Authors Smith and McDougla state this fact gives “reasons for concern”: indeed, they further reveal that generally the most harmful health impacts of poor air quality, from respiratory illnesses to premature mortality, are due to PM2.5 particles.

Canada Air Pollution AirVisual Data

As this report shows, air pollution has significant economic repercussions for countries even as “breathable” as Canada. Canada’s average annual concentration of PM2.5 in 2014 was 7 ug/m3 according to the WHO 2016 database, ranking its air quality one of the cleanest in the world, alongside Finland, Vanuatu Islands, Estonia and Iceland. Despite this, Canada has nonetheless maintained a proactive political stance in their fight to beat air pollution.

In 1991, Canada signed the Air Quality Agreement with the United States in order to address transboundary air pollution - an agreement which which proved to be successful in reducing acid rain in the years following and was extended in the 2000s with the broader focus of tackling air pollution. Since then, many additional measures have ben implemented, such as the 2006 Clean Air Regulatory Agenda, put into place to support governmental initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases.

More recently, amidst the United States’ announcement to withdraw their support for the Paris Agreement, Environment Minister McKenna has announced a series of new regulations targeting specific industries to reduce toxic air pollutants and reduce national emissions, declaring that the country will keep moving on regardless of other countries’ positions. One of the Paris Agreement's objectives is to effectively reduce greenhouse gases emissions, which considerably contribute to global air pollution.

In September 2017 Canada will host an interministerial summit alongside China and the European Union to move forward towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Paule D

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