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Quantified, localized health benefits of accelerated carbon dioxide emissions reductions

Abstract

Societal risks increase as Earth warms, and increase further for emissions trajectories accepting relatively high levels of near-term emissions while assuming future negative emissions will compensate, even if they lead to identical warming as trajectories with reduced near-term emissions1. Accelerating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reductions, including as a substitute for negative emissions, hence reduces long-term risks but requires dramatic near-term societal transformations2. A major barrier to emissions reductions is the difficulty of reconciling immediate, localized costs with global, long-term benefits3,4. However, 2 °C trajectories not relying on negative emissions or 1.5 °C trajectories require elimination of most fossil-fuel-related emissions. This generally reduces co-emissions that cause ambient air pollution, resulting in near-term, localized health benefits. We therefore examine the human health benefits of increasing 21st-century CO2 reductions by 180 GtC, an amount that would shift a ‘standard’ 2 °C scenario to 1.5 °C or could achieve 2 °C without negative emissions. The decreased air pollution leads to 153 ± 43 million fewer premature deaths worldwide, with ~40% occurring during the next 40 years, and minimal climate disbenefits. More than a million premature deaths would be prevented in many metropolitan areas in Asia and Africa, and >200,000 in individual urban areas on every inhabited continent except Australia.

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Fig. 1: CO2 emissions in the four scenarios examined.
Fig. 2: Global total annual premature deaths (all-cause) due to PM2.5 and ozone exposure.
Fig. 3: Reduction in annual premature deaths due to PM2.5 and ozone over the period 2020–2100 from co-emissions accompanying accelerated CO2 emissions reductions.
Fig. 4: Regional highlights of reductions in annual premature deaths due to PM2.5 and ozone over the period 2020–2100 as shown in Fig. 3.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank G. Russell for help with implementing the constituent moment method, NASA GISS for support and the NASA High-End Computing Program through the NASA Center for Climate Simulation at GSFC for computational resources.

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D.S. conceived the project. G.F. performed the simulations and health impact calculations. K.S. assembled ozone data sets for use in model evaluation and helped develop ozone impact analyses. C.S. mapped the health outcomes onto metropolitan areas. D.S. wrote the paper, with all authors providing input.

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Correspondence to Drew Shindell.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Discussion 1–6, Supplementary Figures 1–6, Supplementary Tables 1–2 and Supplementary References

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Shindell, D., Faluvegi, G., Seltzer, K. et al. Quantified, localized health benefits of accelerated carbon dioxide emissions reductions. Nature Clim Change 8, 291–295 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0108-y

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