The costs of pollution-related disease are often overlooked and undercounted. But they are associated with non-communicable diseases of long latency. These extend over many years, are spread across large populations, and are not captured by standard economic indicators.

The Lancet Commission Report on compared pollution details the economic costs of climate change.

The summary of the Lancet Commission’s estimates:

  • In high-income countries, health-care spending on diseases caused by air pollution alone amounted to 3·5% of total health expenditures in 2013.
  • In Sri Lanka, the only low-income or middle-income country for which data are available, health-care spending on diseases due to air pollution accounted for an estimated 7·4% of health-care spending in 2013.
  • The costs of lost productivity from pollution-related disease are estimated to be between 1·3% and 1·9% of gross domestic product (GDP) in low-income countries, and between 0·6% and 0·8% of GDP in low-middle income countries.
  • In high-income and upper-middle-income countries, the cost of lost productivity associated with pollution-related disease is estimated to have exceeded US$53 billion in 2015.


The costs of pollution-related disease imply direct medical expenditures – which includes hospital, physician, and medication costs, long-term rehabilitation or home care. Also, there are non-clinical services such as management, support services, and health insurance costs. The indirect health related expenditures, such as time lost from school or work, costs of special education, and the cost of investments in the health system – and this includes health infrastructure, R&D (research and development) and of course, medical training).

Diminished economic productivity in persons whose brains, lungs, and other organ systems are permanently damaged by pollution; and (4) losses in output resulting from premature death. Pollution-related disease is responsible also for intangible costs, such as those of poor health in people made ill by pollution, disruption of family stability when a person of working age becomes disabled or dies prematurely as a result of pollution, and the loss in years of life to the person themselves.

Studies suggest that the morbidity costs – resulting from pollution-related disease – might conservatively increase mortality costs by 10–70%. Some individual country studies suggest that the increment might be even greater: 25% for Colombia, 22–78% for China and 78% for Nicaragua.


On the Tibetan Plateau in eastern China, 4 million solar panels harness the sun’s light, as part of the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park. It’s the largest solar farm in the world, spreading over 10 square miles. The complex sprung into existence in 2013 and has been rapidly expanding ever since. Satellite imagery received by NASA’s Earth Observatory chronicles its growth from a cluster of panels to a sprawling solar farm that looks like a giant, angular thought bubble as of January 2017.

Unlike the world’s largest ball of twine, it’s more than just a roadside attraction. The installation currently has the capacity to generate 850 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power roughly 140,000 U.S. homes.

The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park is one piece of the massive renewable energy revolution taking place in China. The country invested $103 billion into renewables in 2015, the last year with data available. That helped the world set arenewable investment high water mark of $286 billion.

China continues to see its emissions rise due largely to heavy coal use, which will increase the risks associated with climate change. The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park is a step toward ensuring China has the capacity to change that.