Quantified, localized health benefits of accelerated carbon dioxide emissions reductions

  • Nature Climate Changevolume 8pages291295 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0108-y
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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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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.

Author information


  1. Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

    • Drew Shindell
    •  & Karl Seltzer
  2. Duke Global Health Initiative, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

    • Drew Shindell
  3. Center for Climate Systems Research, Columbia University and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, NY, USA

    • Greg Faluvegi
  4. Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

    • Cary Shindell


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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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Drew Shindell.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

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