Air quality benefits from climate policy

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will help to avert dangerous climate change, but it will also bring other benefits, such as cuts in health-damaging air pollutants, including particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide.

Until now too little attention has been paid to these co-benefits when estimating the cost of climate change mitigation, but new research shows that they could be substantial.

A recent study shows that air quality co-benefits are worth between US$2 and 196 (US$49 on average) for every tonne of carbon dioxide reduced. These values are similar to the estimated cost of climate change mitigation measures.

“Co-benefits have the potential to offset all of the near-term costs of climate policy,” said Gregory Nemet, from the University of Wisconsin, one of the co-authors of the study.

Air pollution damage to health and the environment results in costs to society, when people are unable to work, their life expectancy is reduced and they have a lower quality of life due to illness. In addition healthcare costs can be high. One way to avoid these problems is through expensive pollution control – but avoiding air pollution in the first place is a smarter and cheaper option.

Many developed countries have already learned this lesson the hard way and have stringent air pollution controls in place. But in developing countries air pollution is still a big issue, so they could see major benefits from the air quality improvements associated with greenhouse gas mitigation measures. Developed countries still stand to gain too, with reduced pollution control costs.

Nemet and colleagues argue that it is vital that air quality co-benefits are included in policy debates, and added to the costing of climate change policies, since this will reduce the societal cost of climate policy – alternatively, co-benefits may justify a more stringent climate policy.

Inclusion of air quality co-benefits would help ensure that the problem is tackled at source, placing more emphasis on reducing fossil-fuel emissions, and less on other approaches such as geo-engineering.

Source: environmentalresearchweb, 22 January 2010. Study: Implications of incorporating air quality co-benefits into climate change policymaking. By G. F. Nemet, et al. Environmental Research Letters 5 (January-March 2010) 014007.

Health group calls for 40 per cent CO2 targetHealth Care Without Harm Europe (HCWHE) and Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) are calling on EU heads of state to increase the EU target on climate change. They are seeking a 40-per-cent unconditional emissions reduction target by 2020, compared to 1990 levels. The reductions should be made through domestic action, which they say could bring substantial benefits in improving people’s health and reducing healthcare costs.

Source: HCWHE/HEAL press release, 1 February 2010


In this issue