Letter | Published:

Climate and health impacts of US emissions reductions consistent with 2 °C

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 503507 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

An emissions trajectory for the US consistent with 2 °C warming would require marked societal changes, making it crucial to understand the associated benefits. Previous studies have examined technological potentials and implementation costs1,2 and public health benefits have been quantified for less-aggressive potential emissions-reduction policies (for example, refs 3,4), but researchers have not yet fully explored the multiple benefits of reductions consistent with 2 °C. We examine the impacts of such highly ambitious scenarios for clean energy and vehicles. US transportation emissions reductions avoid 0.03 °C global warming in 2030 (0.15 °C in 2100), whereas energy emissions reductions avoid 0.05–0.07 °C 2030 warming (0.25 °C in 2100). Nationally, however, clean energy policies produce climate disbenefits including warmer summers (although these would be eliminated by the remote effects of similar policies if they were undertaken elsewhere). The policies also greatly reduce damaging ambient particulate matter and ozone. By 2030, clean energy policies could prevent 175,000 premature deaths, with 22,000 (11,000–96,000; 95% confidence) fewer annually thereafter, whereas clean transportation could prevent 120,000 premature deaths and 14,000 (9,000–52,000) annually thereafter. Near-term national benefits are valued at US$250 billion (140 billion to 1,050 billion) per year, which is likely to exceed implementation costs. Including longer-term, worldwide climate impacts, benefits roughly quintuple, becoming 5–10 times larger than estimated implementation costs. Achieving the benefits, however, would require both larger and broader emissions reductions than those in current legislation or regulations.

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Acknowledgements

We thank K. Riahi and S. Rao from IIASA for providing information regarding MESSAGE RCP8.5 emissions. We thank NASA’s Applied Science Program and the US Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovation Technology Administration for financial support along with the NASA High-End Computing Program through the NASA Center for Climate Simulation at Goddard Space Flight Center for computational resources.

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Affiliations

  1. Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA

    • Drew T. Shindell
    •  & Yunha Lee
  2. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, New York 10025, USA

    • Greg Faluvegi

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Contributions

D.T.S. conceived the project; G.F. performed the simulations with the model incorporating mass-based aerosols; Y.L. performed those with the model incorporating aerosol microphysics. D.T.S. wrote the paper, with all authors providing input.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Drew T. Shindell.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2935

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