The call by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-UK) to George Osborne as he prepares for his final budget, to focus on the environment has the potential to save the economy nearly £20Bn according to this article. The greatest saving (around £15Bn) is based on a reduction of health and environmental costs if the UK could reduce industrial pollution and improve its air quality. In November, the European Environmental Agency published its annual air quality report suggesting that, despite relative improvements, air pollution is still the main environmental health hazard in Europe, having resulted in approximately 400,000 premature deaths in 2011. Nearly all European city-dwellers are exposed to levels of pollutants considered unsafe by the World Health Organization. A smaller but still significant sum (over £2Bn) could be saved from the healthcare budgets if every household had access to quality green space. The Woodland Trust estimates that only 14% of the UK population lives within half a kilometre of woodland. Using data from 5,000 households over 17 years, researchers from the University of Exeter found that people reported lower levels of mental distress and higher degrees of life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas. Whilst it is not possible to ‘build’ green space, improving access and improving the quality of existing space is something that can be tackled in a number of ways.
This may be the last opportunity for the current Government to rescue their environmental reputation. Whilst we cannot expect the Chancellor to read my blog or even listen to the WWF campaign, we can use the increased numbers of door step canvassers and social media to try to get the message out. Lets save £17.6Bn George!