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French Senate says air pollution costing more than 100 billion euros annually

media The Paris region is particularly affected by pollution, 17 March 2015. Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

Air pollution in France is costing the country 101.3 billion euros each year, according to a French Senate committee report released Wednesday. The estimate includes the impact on the health care system, lower crop production and the cost of cleaning soot from buildings.

According to the assessment, health costs alone are up to 97 billion euros annually.

That includes hospitalisation and treatment of air pollution-related illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer or stroke, as well as daily allowances, disability pensions and lost productivity.

Meanwhile the French National Institute for Agricultural Research estimates that the wheat yield in the Paris region, for example, is 10 per cent lower than in areas that are less polluted.

Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal has promised to announce next week what she called “extremely strong measures” to tackle air pollution.

“Is it normal that in Ile-de-France, in a city like Paris, Grenoble and Toulouse, we lose six months of our life because we live in an over-polluted area? Is it normal that our children have asthma, bronchitis, and that when there are pollution peaks they are the ones who stay at home and not cars that are outside?" she said in a statement after the release of the report.

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The authors of the study are recommending a range of fiscal policies to encourage the use of cleaner technologies.

In particular, they question the longstanding subsidy which makes diesel fuel cheaper than gasoline. While more efficient, diesel-powered vehicles generate much higher quantities of nitrogen oxides, which form ground-level ozone and smog.

Senators are calling on the government to align the taxation of petrol and diesel by the year 2020, and to allow tax breaks for companies that use petrol or electric vehicles as is the case currently for diesel cars.

Fabienne Keller, a senator and a vice-president of the commission, told RFI Wednesday that the report finally makes transparent the impact pollution is having on the country’s people and its economy.

“The very important point here is that we measure it in terms of money, so this means it’s worthwhile paying a little bit to implement measures that are really improving the quality of the air,” she said.

The report comes ahead of the UN climate talks to be held in Paris in December, which aims to seal a binding universal agreement on cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

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