Health benefits of cutting global emissions offsets high costs

Carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuel burningThe economic cost of cutting global emissions may seem high, however, new research suggests that it may actually be economically sound if you factor in deaths from air pollution and climate change.

A recent study published in Nature Communications by researchers from the University of Vermont looked at the impact of human health co-benefits on evaluations of global climate policy.

The team found that when co-benefits and co-harms of reducing air pollutant emissions are both taken into account, optimal climate policy results in “immediate net benefits globally, overturning previous findings from cost-benefit models that omit these effects.”

The global health benefits from climate policy could potentially “reach trillions of dollars annually,” the abstract of the study said.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will also reduce deaths from air pollution in communities near the emissions reductions,” says Mark Budolfson, co-lead author from the University of Vermont. “These health ‘co-benefits’ of climate change policy are widely believed to be important, but until now have not been fully incorporated in global economic analyses of how much the world should invest in climate action.”

The findings of the research could help encourage higher investments in global emission reductions.

“We show the climate conversation doesn’t need to be about the current generation investing in the further future,” says Budolfson, a Fellow of the Gund Institute for Environment from UVM’s College of Arts of Sciences. “By making smart investments in climate action, we can save lives now through improved air quality and health.”

“Some developing regions have been understandably reluctant to invest their limited resources in reducing emissions,” said Noah Scovronick, a co-lead author from Emory University. “This and other studies demonstrate that many of these same regions are likely to gain most of the health co-benefits, which may add incentive for them to adopt stronger climate policies.”


“The impact of human health co-benefits on evaluations of global climate policy”

Noah ScovronickMark BudolfsonFrancis DennigFrank ErricksonMarc FleurbaeyWei Peng, Robert H. SocolowDean Spears & Fabian Wagner

Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 2095 (2019)

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