Letter | Published:

Co-benefits of mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions for future air quality and human health

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 885889 (2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

Actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions often reduce co-emitted air pollutants, bringing co-benefits for air quality and human health. Past studies1,2,3,4,5,6 typically evaluated near-term and local co-benefits, neglecting the long-range transport of air pollutants7,8,9, long-term demographic changes, and the influence of climate change on air quality10,11,12. Here we simulate the co-benefits of global GHG 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. We use new relationships between chronic mortality and exposure to fine particulate matter13 and ozone14, global modelling methods15 and new future scenarios16. Relative to a reference scenario, global GHG mitigation avoids 0.5±0.2, 1.3±0.5 and 2.2±0.8 million premature deaths in 2030, 2050 and 2100. Global average marginal co-benefits of avoided mortality are US$50–380 per tonne of CO2, which exceed previous estimates, exceed marginal abatement costs in 2030 and 2050, and are within the low range of costs in 2100. East Asian co-benefits are 10–70 times the marginal cost in 2030. Air quality and health co-benefits, especially as they are mainly local and near-term, provide strong additional motivation for transitioning to a low-carbon future.

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Acknowledgements

This publication was financially supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency STAR grant #834285, the Integrated Assessment Research Program in the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant #1 R21 ES022600-01, fellowship SFRH/BD/62759/2009 from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (to R.A.S.), and an EPA STAR Graduate Fellowship (to M.M.F.). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the grantee and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USEPA or other funding sources. USEPA and other funding sources do not endorse the purchase of any commercial products or services mentioned in the publication. NCAR is operated by the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research under sponsorship of the National Science Foundation. We thank the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration for computing resources, L. Emmons for MOZART-4 guidance, and G. Characklis.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA

    • J. Jason West
    • , Raquel A. Silva
    • , Yuqiang Zhang
    • , Zachariah Adelman
    •  & Meridith M. Fry
  2. Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, College Park, Maryland 20740, USA

    • Steven J. Smith
  3. UCAR/NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey 08540, USA

    • Vaishali Naik
  4. US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington DC 20004, USA

    • Susan Anenberg
  5. NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey 08540, USA

    • Larry W. Horowitz
  6. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado 80301, USA

    • Jean-Francois Lamarque

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Contributions

J.J.W. and S.J.S. conceived of the study. J.J.W., J-F.L., Z.A. and M.M.F. prepared emissions inputs, and V.N. and L.W.H. prepared meteorological inputs. J.J.W. conducted the MOZART-4 simulations, and J.J.W., Y.Z., Z.A. and M.M.F. analysed MOZART-4 output. R.A.S., J.J.W., S.A. and Y.Z. analysed human mortality. Economic valuation was conducted by J.J.W., S.J.S. and S.A. J.J.W. wrote the paper and all co-authors commented on it.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. Jason West.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2009

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