Letter | Published:

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

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


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.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    & Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, part II: reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies. Energy Policy 39, 1170–1190 (2011).

  2. 2.

    et al. The US Report of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, 2014).

  3. 3.

    , , & A systems approach to evaluating the air quality co-benefits of US carbon policies. Nature Clim. Change 4, 917–923 (2014).

  4. 4.

    et al. US power plant carbon standards and clean air and health co-benefits. Nature Clim. Change 5, 535–540 (2015).

  5. 5.

    , , & Spatial patterns of radiative forcing and surface temperature response. J. Geophys. Res. 120, 5385–5403 (2015).

  6. 6.

    , , & The indirect global warming potential and global temperature change potential due to methane oxidation. Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 044007 (2009).

  7. 7.

    & Scale effects on averaging cloud droplet and aerosol number concentrations: observations and models. J. Clim. 12, 1268–1279 (1999).

  8. 8.

    & Climate response to regional radiative forcing during the 20th century. Nature Geosci. 2, 294–300 (2009).

  9. 9.

    , & A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet 380, 2224–2260 (2012).

  10. 10.

    et al. Global air quality and health co-benefits of mitigating near-term climate change through methane and black carbon emission controls. Environ. Health Perspect. 120, 831–839 (2012).

  11. 11.

    The social cost of atmospheric release. Climatic Change 130, 313–326 (2015).

  12. 12.

    Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866 (Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon, 2013).

  13. 13.

    , & Implications of incorporating air-quality co-benefits into climate change policymaking. Environ. Res. Lett. 5, 014007 (2010).

  14. 14.

    , , & A self-consistent method to assess air quality co-benefits from U.S. climate policies. J. Air Waste Manage. Assoc. 65, 74–89 (2015).

  15. 15.

    et al. Estimating the national public health burden associated with exposure to ambient PM2.5 and ozone. Risk Anal. 32, 81–95 (2012).

  16. 16.

    US EPA Clean Power Plan Fact Sheet (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2014);

  17. 17.

    et al. Configuration and assessment of the GISS ModelE2 contributions to the CMIP5 archive. J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst. 6, 141–184 (2014).

  18. 18.

    et al. Interactive ozone and methane chemistry in GISS-E2 historical and future climate simulations. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 13, 2653–2689 (2013).

  19. 19.

    et al. Radiative forcing in the ACCMIP historical and future climate simulations. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 13, 2939–2974 (2013).

  20. 20.

    et al. in Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Solomon, S. et al.) Ch. 2 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

  21. 21.

    et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) Ch. 8 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  22. 22.

    , & Evaluation of the global aerosol microphysical ModelE2-TOMAS model against satellite and ground-based observations. Geosci. Model Dev. 8, 631–667 (2015).

  23. 23.

    Numerical advection by conservation of second-order moments. J. Geophys. Res. 91, 6671–6681 (1986).

  24. 24.

    et al. Simultaneously mitigating near-term climate change and improving human health and food security. Science 335, 183–189 (2012).

  25. 25.

    World Health Organization Death Estimates for 2008 by Cause for WHO Member States (WHO Department of Health Statistics, 2011).

  26. 26.

    , , & An estimate of the global burden of anthropogenic ozone and fine particulate matter on premature human mortality using atmospheric modeling. Environ. Health Perspect. 118, 1189–1195 (2010).

  27. 27.

    et al. Lung cancer, cardiopulmonary mortality, and long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution. JAMA 287, 1132–1141 (2002).

  28. 28.

    et al. Expert judgment assessment of the mortality impact of changes in ambient fine particulate matter in the US. Environ. Sci. Technol. 42, 2268–2274 (2008).

  29. 29.

    et al. Research Report (Health Effects Institute, 2009).

  30. 30.

    , , & Reduction in fine particulate air pollution and mortality: extended follow-up of the Harvard Six Cities study. Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med. 173, 667–672 (2006).

  31. 31.

    et al. Cardiovascular mortality and exposure to airborne fine particulate matter and cigarette smoke: shape of the exposure-response relationship. Circulation 120, 941–948 (2009).

  32. 32.

    et al. Comparative Quantification of Health Risks (World Health Organization, 2004).

  33. 33.

    et al. Lung cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality associated with ambient air pollution and cigarette smoke: shape of the exposure-response relationships. Environ. Health Perspect. 119, 1616–1621 (2011).

  34. 34.

    et al. El Nino and health risks from landscape fire emissions in southeast Asia. Nature Clim. Change 3, 131–136 (2013).

  35. 35.

    , , & Association of fine particulate matter from different sources with daily mortality in six US cities. Environ. Health Perspect. 108, 941–947 (2000).

  36. 36.

    et al. Black carbon as an additional indicator of the adverse health effects of airborne particles compared with PM10 and PM2.5. Environ. Health Perspect. 119, 1691–1699 (2011).

  37. 37.

    , , , & Particulate matter components, sources, and health: systematic approaches to testing effects. J. Air Waste Manage. Assoc. 65, 544–558 (2015).

  38. 38.

    et al. Long-term ozone exposure and mortality. New Engl. J. Med. 360, 1085–1095 (2009).

  39. 39.

    , & A meta-analysis of time-series studies of ozone and mortality with comparison to the national morbidity, mortality, and air pollution study. Epidemiology 16, 436–445 (2005).

  40. 40.

    CIESIN/FAO/CIAT Gridded Population of the World: Future Estimates, 2015 (GPWv3) : Population Grids (NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center, 2005);

  41. 41.

    United Nations United Nations World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2011).

Download references


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.

Author information


  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


  1. Search for Drew T. Shindell in:

  2. Search for Yunha Lee in:

  3. Search for Greg Faluvegi in:


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.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Information

About this article

Publication history






Further reading