High costs when environmental protection is neglected

One tonne of CO2 emissions causes damage worth 180 euros – German Environment Agency publishes updated cost rates

Feuerwehr hilft bei Überschwemmung.Click to enlarge
More heavy rainfall due to climate change can mean high costs in case of floods.
Source: asafaric / Fotolia.com

Excessive amounts of greenhouse gases, air pollutants and other environmental pollutants harm human health, destroy ecosystems and foster the extinction of animals and plants. Another result: economic losses including loss of production, crop losses or damage to buildings and infrastructure. There are established scientific methods which express this damage in monetary terms. The German Environment Agency (UBA) has updated its recommendations for the estimation of such damage and readjusted the costs of environmental impacts in the newly published Methodological Convention 3.0. The cost readjustments claim that one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, for example, incurs environmental costs of about 180 euros. When annualized for Germany's greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, total costs amount to about 164 billion euros. President Maria Krautzberger of the German Environment Agency said: "Measures to protect the environment and climate can save us and future generations billions of euros due to lower environmental and health costs. This must not be forgotten in the debate about air pollution control or the phase-out of coal."

The Methodological Convention for Estimating Environmental Costs 3.0 included a large number of parameters to calculate the costs of environmental pollution. This included the costs of restoring damaged building and infrastructures, of the market value of crop losses and production losses, as well as the sum which people would be prepared to pay for the avoidance of damage to their health. The Methodological Convention 3.0 helps to compare and contrast the costs of environmental pollution and the costs of environmental protection.

The cost rates elaborated in the Methodological Convention 3.0 can be applied to determine what the costs of environmental pollution will be in electricity and heat production or in passenger and freight transport.
Example: one kilowatt hour (kWh) of lignite-produced electricity causes an average 20.81 cents of environmental damage. Hence the total amount of lignite-produced electricity in Germany in 2016 generated 31.2 billion euros worth of environmental damage. In comparison, the environmental cost of one kWh of electricity produced with wind energy is only 0.28 cents.

One tonne of particulate (PM2.5). emissions from transport bears an average cost of 59,700 euros; one tonne of nitrous oxide (NOx) incurs 15,000 euros. A projection of total emissions from the transport sector in Germany in 2016 suggests annual environmental costs of 1.49 billion euros due to particulates, and 7.29 billion euros for nitrous oxides.

Ms Krautzberger said: "These examples demonstrate the immense scale of the damage which is caused by environmental pollution in Germany every year. Even if they are not immediately felt as a financial strain, for example in the public-sector budget, the damages are real and incur tremendous costs to the economy."