Putting an economic value on nitrogen pollution in Europe: can we improve the unit N cost method using results of the Eurobarometer?

Hans J.M. van Grinsven1 

1Department: Water, Agriculture and Food, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, PO box 303 | 3720 AH, The Hague, The Netherlands


The unit N cost method was applied for the European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA) to monetize the social cost of impacts of N pollution on human health, ecosystems and climate stability for the European Union. Unit costs are based on Willingness To Pay (WTP) of people to prevent these impacts by reducing N pollution. Underlying cost-impact data for various impacts came from diverse sources, apply to different periods and sometimes regions. Incompatibility of data sources may have created artefacts, like an apparent five time higher unit N cost to prevent impacts of N on aquatic ecosystems than on terrestrial ecosystems. This paper explores if we can validate and improve the unit N cost method using the Eurobarometer surveys by the European Commission. This survey polls societal concerns in the European Union including those for environment. A preliminary estimate of the social cost of N pollution in 2013-2014 for the European Union based on the Eurobarometer is more than three times lower than the value for 2008 as derived in ENA and differences in this cost between low and high GDP countries are larger than reported in ENA.