New Report: World governments make citizens pay billions to destroy their own health

World governments make citizens pay billions to destroy their own health by Health and Environment Alliance, July 27, 2017

● New HEAL report shows how fossil fuel subsidies support an industry that causes premature deaths, ill-health and huge health costs worldwide, in stark contrast to Paris Agreement

● Health costs associated with fossil fuels are over six times higher than subsidies: 2,758 billion vs 444 billion USD

● HEAL urges policymakers to end fossil fuel subsidies for the sake of health, using freed public funds instead to support healthy energy or health care investments

Brussels, 27 July 2017 11 am CEST The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) has launched the report Hidden Price Tags: How ending fossil fuel subsidies would benefit our health providing the first-ever comparison of fossil fuel subsidies and the costs to health associated with air pollution from fossil fuels.

Burning fossil fuels causes deadly air pollution and climate change. Yet virtually all governments spend huge amounts of public money – their citizens’ taxes – on supporting the oil, gas and coal industry in fossil fuel energy production. Despite nearly a decade-old commitment to end such financial support, the report reveals that on average, in G20 countries, the health costs associated with fossil fuels, are over six times higher than the subsidies: 2,758 billion USD vs 444 billion USD (2,600 billion Euro vs 416 billion Euro). 

Every year air pollution from mostly fossil fuel combustion cuts short the lives of an estimated 6.5 million people worldwide because of respiratory tract infections, strokes, heart attacks, lung cancer and chronic lung disease. The costs to health from the resulting air pollution, climate change and environmental degradation are not carried by the industry but paid by society. 

Genon K. Jensen, HEAL’s Executive Director said: “European and global leaders continue to pledge to tackle climate change and decarbonise our economy. However, they still give out billions of Euros and Dollars which lead to global warming and fuel early death and ill-health including heart and lung disease. It is time to seize the opportunity to improve the health of millions of people worldwide by abandoning subsidies to the deadly fossil fuel industry. They should walk the talk and end fossil fuel subsidies now.

The report examines the true costs of the health impacts that arise from fossil fuel subsidies in a number of selected countries. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the health costs arising from fossil fuel driven air pollution are almost five times higher than the subsidies paid, meaning that citizens not only see 6.5 billion USD of public money given to one of the world’s wealthiest industries, but that gift costs them another 30.7 billion USD in health costs alone from premature deaths from air pollution. In China fossil fuels cause a staggering 1,790 billion USD in health costs from air pollution, more than 18 times what the nation hands out to oil, gas and coal producers, helping to fuel a public health crisis that is already causing 1.6 million premature deaths every year. 

In the report, HEAL puts forward recommendations to policy-makers urging them to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 for developed nations and by 2025 for low-income economies, to decrease premature deaths, poor health and climate chaos and pave the way for renewable, clean energy choices and their multiple health benefits.

The report also highlights how the funds could be re-allocated to boost health in the report’s seven country spotlights. For example, in Germany, the 5.4 billion USD (5.1 billion Euro) of fossil fuel subsidies represent taxpayer money that is sufficient to provide more than 300,000 households with a solar installation, powering their homes with clean energy, as well as to fund the transition for all of Germany’s 15,000 coal power plant workers for the coming five years. In countries such as Turkey and Poland, fossil fuel subsidies represent valuable public funds that could greatly strengthen the nation’s health systems, e.g. in Poland being used to build more than 34 new clinics and increase the number of physicians by 30,000.

“One of the best political strategies to reduce fossil fuel subsidies is to simultaneously launch universal free health services. The savings from the former can fund the latter. Combining these policies can deliver significant health, economic and environmental benefits and deliver huge political benefits to leaders who bring free healthcare to their people” – Robert Yates, Senior Fellow, Chatham House 

HEAL contacts available for interview: 
● Génon K. Jensen, Executive Director, Health & Environment Alliance (HEAL), E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required, Tel.: +32 (0) 2234 36 44
● Vijoleta Gordeljevic, lead author of the report, Health and Climate Change Coordinator, HEAL, E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required, Tel.: +32 (0) 2234 36 42

Fossil Fuel Subsidies International expert available for interview:
● Shelagh Whitley, Head of Programme, Climate and Energy Programme, E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required , Tel: +44 (0) 2079220382 Mob: +44 (0) 7702719151

Health professional available to talk about health impacts of fossil fuels:
● Prof Jonathan Grigg, Professor of Paediatric Respiratory and Environmental Medicine, Centre for Genomics and Child Health, E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required Tel: +44 (0) 20 7882 2206
● Prof Paul Wilkinson, Professor Environmental Epidemiology , London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required, Tel. +44 (0) 20 7927 2444, Mob. +44(0)7501 992497
● For Germany only: Prof Rainer Sauerborn, Professor of Global Health & Climate Change at Heidelberg University and Visiting Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, E-mail: email hidden; JavaScript is required| Tel: +49 (0)6221 56-5038

Other resources:

● This press release is also available in German and Polish.

[Refer also to:

2017 08 07: Fossil fuel subsidies are a staggering $5 tn per year, A new study finds 6.5% of global GDP goes to subsidizing dirty fossil fuels

How Large Are Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies? by David Coadya, Ian Parrya, Louis Sears and Baoping Shanga, World Development, Volume 91, March 2017, Pages 11-27,

• Fossil fuel subsidies are large, amounting to 6.5% of global GDP in 2015.
• Mispricing from a domestic perspective accounts for the bulk of the subsidy.
• Coal subsidies account for the largest part (about half) of global subsidies.
• In absolute terms, subsidies are highly concentrated in a few large countries.
• The environmental, fiscal, and welfare gains from subsidy reform are substantial.

This paper estimates fossil fuel subsidies and the economic and environmental benefits from reforming them, focusing mostly on a broad notion of subsidies arising when consumer prices are below supply costs plus environmental costs and general consumption taxes.

Estimated subsidies are $4.9 trillion worldwide in 2013 and $5.3 trillion in 2015 (6.5% of global GDP in both years). Undercharging for global warming accounts for 22% of the subsidy in 2013, air pollution 46%, broader vehicle externalities 13%, supply costs 11%, and general consumer taxes 8%. China was the biggest subsidizer in 2013 ($1.8 trillion), followed by the United States ($0.6 trillion), and Russia, the European Union, and India (each with about $0.3 trillion). Eliminating subsidies would have reduced global carbon emissions in 2013 by 21% and fossil fuel air pollution deaths 55%, while raising revenue of 4%, and social welfare by 2.2%, of global GDP.

Complete paper ]

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