Health Benefits Alone Outweigh Costs of Cutting Air Pollution, Study Suggests
Aggressive measures designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could prevent as many as 3 million premature deaths annually by 2100, according to a new study.
The report, published in the journal Nature, suggests that long-term health costs tied to air pollution alone economically justify curbing fossil-fuel use: in all, the authors estimate the value of the health benefits derived from cutting one ton of CO2 ranges between $50 and $380, or more than the projected costs of cutting one ton of CO2 within the next several decades.
The report is unique based on several factors, including its accounting for population growth and air pollution's ability to drift across country borders.
"Past studies typically evaluated near-term and local co-benefits, neglecting the long-range transport of air pollutants, long-term demographic changes, and the influence of climate change on air quality," the authors write.
In contrast, the model used in the new report simulates "the co-benefits of global [greenhouse gas] reductions on air quality and human health using a global atmospheric model and consistent future scenarios, via two mechanisms: reducing co-emitted air pollutants, and slowing climate change and its effect on air quality."
According to the results, aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions could prevent 300,000-700,000 premature deaths annually by 2030; 800,000-1.8 million by 2050; and between 1.4 million and 3 million by 2100.
According to Jason West, an atmospheric scientist at the University of North Carolina and co-author of the study, China and east Asia have the most to gain health-wise by reducing air pollution, based on the report.
"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 said, according to The Guardian.
The study comes on the heels of a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which estimated that improvements in US air quality since 1990 have led to a 35 percent reduction in deaths and disability due to air pollution.
"Some of the best news relative to the air pollution research over the last few years is the evidence that oure reducing air pollution in the United States has resulted in measurable improvements in life expectancy and public health," Arden Pope, co-author and professor of economics at Brigham Young University, said in a statement.
Going forward, West and his colleagues hope to both icrease and extend these benefits worldwide.
"Air quality and health co-benefits, especially as they are mainly local and near-term," they write, "provide strong additional motivation for transitioning to a low-carbon future."