A recent study shows that the lives of Northern Chinese are five years shorter than normal due to the heavy pollution of the air they breathe. Those premature deaths, it turns out, are also having a negative impact on the economy. According to data from the recently released New Climate Economy Report, co-authored by leading economist Lord Nicholas Stern, more than 10% of China’s total GDP is lost each year to deaths from illnesses related to exposure to polluted air. In 2010, that amounted to more than $600 billion in lost productivity.
The good news is that China is tackling the problem, recently announcing a ban on all coal use in Beijing by 2020 and a plan to tax the sale of coal. But the challenge, as Paulson Institute Chairman Hank Paulson said at a Harvard Kennedy School Forum on Wednesday, is “how to keep the economy growing and at the same time clean up the air.” The Institute’s recently launched Climate Change and Air Quality Program will be working on tackling that problem.