Raising the EU's 2020 target for greenhouse gas emission cuts from 20 to 30% would increase health savings by as much as 48%, or €6.5 to 25 billion each year, according to the report, which was commissioned by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Climate Action Network Europe (CAN-E) and WWF. Moreover, the benefits would accrue year on year.
The estimates are based on economic evaluations of reduced loss of life and health resulting from better air quality. Savings to industry and governments are also taken into account in terms of fewer lost working days and reduced health service costs.
According to the study, the higher emissions reduction target would reduce lost years of life by 105,000 annually and lead to 2,800 fewer hospital admissions. These societal benefits would be accompanied by industry savings of two million work days saved every year.
"Until now the discussion on climate change has been all about costs to industry and the economy, while costs of climate pollution to the society have largely been neglected," said Delia Villagrasa, senior advisor to WWF, referring to the improved quality of European citizens' life as a result of using cleaner sources of energy.
The report also pointed out that stronger climate policies help protect forests, ecosystems and historical buildings, which adds to the quantified benefits. Moreover, European companies are expected to make considerable savings from implementing air pollution control measures.
"Action on climate change produces win-win-win scenarios. Tougher targets means a win for the planet, a win for European citizens' health and a win for industry in reducing air pollution control cost," stated Tomas Wyns, policy officer on the emissions trading scheme at CAN-E.
The NGOs hope that the health benefits demonstrated will persuade the EU to support a minimum target of 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Currently, the EU has pledged to cut its total greenhouse gasses by 20% by 2020. But it has promised to increase this target to 30% if a new global climate change pact that embraces other major emitters such as the US and China is agreed next year in Copenhagen.