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Air quality co-benefits of carbon pricing in China

An Author Correction to this article was published on 10 July 2018

This article has been updated


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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Fig. 1: Changes in energy use and emissions in the 4% Policy scenario compared to the No Policy scenario in 2030.
Fig. 2: Impacts of changing policy stringency on emissions of CO2 and air pollutants.
Fig. 3: Spatial distribution of population-weighted PM2.5.
Fig. 4: Air quality co-benefits of climate policy.

Change history

  • 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.).

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Authors and Affiliations



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.

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Correspondence to Valerie J. Karplus.

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

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Li, M., Zhang, D., Li, CT. et al. Air quality co-benefits of carbon pricing in China. Nature Clim Change 8, 398–403 (2018).

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