Climate policies targeting energy-related CO2 emissions, which act on a global scale over long time horizons, can result in localized, near-term reductions in both air pollution and adverse human health impacts. Focusing on China, the largest energy-using and CO2-emitting nation, we develop a cross-scale modelling approach to quantify these air quality co-benefits, and compare them to the economic costs of climate policy. We simulate the effects of an illustrative climate policy, a price on CO2 emissions. In a policy scenario consistent with China’s recent pledge to reach a peak in CO2 emissions by 2030, we project that national health co-benefits from improved air quality would partially or fully offset policy costs depending on chosen health valuation. Net health co-benefits are found to rise with increasing policy stringency.

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  • 10 July 2018

    In the version of the Supplementary Information file originally published alongside this Article, on page S2 ‘No Policy’ emissions values were incorrect for black carbon (BC) and primary organic carbon (OC): the sentence: “BC is 195% higher, and OC is 240% higher” should have read: “BC is 95% higher, and OC is 140% higher”. The Supplementary file has now been amended.


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We acknowledge the support of Eni S.p.A., the French Development Agency (AFD), ICF International and Shell International Limited, founding sponsors of the China Energy and Climate Project (CECP), and the National Science Foundation of China (project no. 71690244). We further thank the US Department of Energy, Energy Information Agency, for ongoing support for this work under a cooperative agreement (grant no. DE-EI0003030). At MIT the China Energy and Climate Project is part of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, funded through a consortium of industrial sponsors and Federal grants, including the US Department of Energy (DOE) under Integrated Assessment Grant (grant no. DE-FG02-94ER61937). We also acknowledge the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, the Tang Fellowship (M.L.) and the MIT Leading Technology and Policy Initiative (K.M.M.).

Author information

Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Mingwei Li and Da Zhang.


  1. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Mingwei Li
    •  & Noelle E. Selin
  2. Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Da Zhang
    • , Chiao-Ting Li
    •  & Valerie J. Karplus
  3. Institute of Energy, Economy, and Environment, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

    • Da Zhang
  4. Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Kathleen M. Mulvaney
    •  & Noelle E. Selin
  5. Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Valerie J. Karplus


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V.J.K. and N.E.S. conceived the research. M.L. and C.-T.L. performed the modeling simulations. M.L., C.-T.L., K.M.M. and D.Z. analysed data. D.Z. developed the China Regional Energy Model (C-REM). All authors wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Valerie J. Karplus.

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  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures 1–5, Supplementary Tables 1–5 and Supplementary References

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