Environmental and health co-benefits of public action: “it’s (also) the economy, stupid!”

27 May 2020 - Climate Brief - By : Benoît LEGUET

In sharp contrast with the stimulus strategy adopted in France in 2008, which focused exclusively on directly visible economic benefits, each public euro invested to recover from the crisis will have to value the environmental and health co-benefits. This is the thesis of this article by I4CE and Terra Nova. With the increase of the French public debt and the eventual reduction of budgetary room for manoeuvre, valuing all the co-benefits of public action is no longer a simple option but an imperative. It would reduce the 50 billion euros/year costs of air pollution in France, among other societal benefits.


Story or legend, the “It’s the economy, stupid!” slogan that supposedly helped bring Bill Clinton to power in 1992, highlights the tendency of voters to prioritize the economy in times of crisis. After the lockdown imposed by Covid-19, there may be a strong temptation, when developing and implementing an exit strategy, to favour taking into account directly observable economic impacts, without any other considerations, as was the case after the 2008 crisis.


Here we show that any exit policy must be subject to a broad set of requirements which values the economic, environmental and health “co-benefits” of public action. Among other examples, decarbonized transportation measures (from bicycles to rail freight) have direct effects in terms of the economy (jobs, added value in the sectors involved), the environment (reduction of air pollution which costs France about 50 billion euros/year, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions) and health (this same pollution kills 50,000 people/year, and weakens populations when they are exposed to pandemics).


Doing this is a matter of responding to “social demand”: in the same way, as Emmanuel Macron recently observed, when we emerge from the crisis, “people will no longer tolerate breathing polluted air” 1. And, since between the triggering of the subprime crisis in 2008 and the exit from the emergency phase of the Covid-19 crisis, French debt will have increased by 50% of GDP, reducing the public authorities’ margin for budgetary manoeuvres, maximizing the co-benefits of action is no longer simply an option, it is an imperative: “It’s (also) the economy, stupid!


To learn more
  • 05/12/2023 Foreword of the week
    Green industry: the game is kicking off

    Faced with international competition exacerbated by the US Inflation Reduction Act, Team Europe (and longtime team member, France) is preparing its response. The team’s tactics tackle two challenges: greening existing industrial sectors such as steel or cement, and industrialising the production of green goods, particularly those cleantechs that will make the transition a reality, such as heat pumps or electrolysers. To meet the first challenge, the French government has put 5 to 10 billion euros of public money on the table to decarbonise the most polluting production sites, in return for private investment. But has the extent of the industrial investment needs been properly assessed?

  • 05/11/2023
    Investments to decarbonise heavy industry in France: what, how much and when?

    Industry: relocation and decarbonisation at the heart of the debate. The recent succession of crises (health, energy, geopolitical) and increased international competition have prompted France to look for ways to strengthen its industrial and energy sovereignty. It faces this challenge in addition to the challenge of decarbonising its industry. In this context, France and Europe are developing industrial policies with two objectives – relocation and decarbonisation – and with new tools such as the France 2030 plan and the Net Zero Industry Act at the European level. These policies target both ‘historical’ industries, such as steel and cement, and new clean technologies, from solar to batteries.

  • 05/10/2023 Blog post
    The Net-Zero Industry Act: Designing Europe’s launchpad for a cleantech investment plan

    As the world enters a new era of cleantech competition, policymakers must confront two key policy questions – regulation and investment. The Net Zero Industry Act is Europe’s response to the former. Yet key concerns around permitting, sectoral targets and the scope of the Act will need to be addressed if it is to be effective, argue Thomas Pellerin-Carlin and Ciarán Humphreys in this blog post.

See all publications
Press contact Amélie FRITZ Head of Communication and press relations Email
Subscribe to our mailing list :
I register !
Subscribe to our newsletter
Once a week, receive all the information on climate economics
I register !