A new study finds that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would save millions of lives per year by 2100 by decreasing air pollution. The study is unique in that it simulates possible future correlations between mortality and air pollution and shows the benefits of curbing greenhouse gas emissions outside of other climate change-induced factors such as extreme storms and sea level rise.
Researchers simulated levels of two prominent pollutants: particulate matter and ozone. The team, lead by Jason West, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, compared two possible futures, one in which climate change is stabilized by aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and one in which emissions are never cut.
Their findings reveal that 300,000 to 700,000 premature deaths per year could be avoided in 2030; 800,000 to 1.8 million in 2050; and 1.4 to 3 million in 2100. Another key finding is that the value of the health benefits accomplished by cutting a ton of CO2 emissions is $50 to $380, based on the standard cost-benefit analysis, which is greater than the projected cost of cutting carbon over the next few decades.
“This is much more than the costs of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, so this can justify reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the point of view of human health,” said West. “It’s pretty striking that you can make an argument purely on health grounds to control climate change.”
The benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions were greatest in east Asia, where the benefits would be 10 to 70 times the cost of reducing emissions, in 2030. “The benefits in North America and Europe are still pretty high, but in east Asia you have a very high population exposed to very bad air pollution, so there are lots of opportunities for improvement there,” West told The Guardian.
The study is also unique in its global perspective and inclusion of future population increases and the increased longevity of human life.
West’s study comes just before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s authority on the greenhouse effect, is scheduled to release the first volume of a comprehensive report on climate change, including impacts and measures to deal with those impacts. The panel will release their report on Friday, September 27.
“Climate change is an important problem that needs strong action, and our study suggests serious benefits to reducing greenhouse gases in addition to helping slow down climate change,” West told LiveScience. “We show that reducing greenhouse gas emissions can have near-term, local benefits for health, as well, which might strengthen the arguments for action with governments and citizens.”
West and his team’s study, “Co-benefits of Mitigating Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Future Air Quality and Human Health,” was released on September 22 in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change.