The positive paybacks of clearing the air

Industrial chimneys

by James Carson

Two reports published last week highlight the potential benefits of policies for reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change.

In the most detailed assessment to date of the interwoven effects of climate policy on the economy, air pollution, and health, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) claim that a reduction in carbon emissions could significantly cut the rates of conditions such as asthma and lung disease. The MIT researchers suggest that some carbon-cutting policies could be so effective that they would save more money than the cost of implementation.

“Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality,” explained Noelle Selin, an assistant professor at MIT and co-author of the study. “In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution.”

The MIT study estimates that a clean energy standard, costing $208 billion, would save $247 billion in the form of avoided medical care and saved sick days. And savings from health benefits could recover up to 10.5 times the estimated $14 billion cost of a carbon emissions trading scheme.

“If cost-benefit analyses of climate policies don’t include the significant health benefits from healthier air, they dramatically underestimate the benefits of these policies,” said the study’s lead author Tammy Thompson, now of Colorado State University.

Air quality continues to have a significant impact on global health. In March this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that an estimated 7 million people had died in 2012 because of air pollution. That’s one in eight global premature deaths due to pollution from industry, cooking fires and vehicle fumes.

Meanwhile a new report from the IPPR think tank focuses on the economic and social benefits of climate change policies. It identifies three particular areas where the UK would benefit from climate change mitigation efforts:

  • The consumer challenge: reforming the energy and transport markets, resulting in raised living standards and reduced carbon emissions;
  • The capacity challenge: investing more in new infrastructure, and more effective management of existing usage of energy and transport;
  • The regional challenge: development of a low-carbon industrial strategy, contributing to climate goals, whilst ensuring that all parts of the country benefit from an economic recovery.

IPPR also recommends an urgent audit of the risks posed by climate change, along the lines of the National Climate Assessment in the United States. And it calls for a shift away from large-scale energy generation, more effective energy efficiency programmes, and concrete proposals for preventing a floods disaster in the political parties’ 2015 general election manifestos.

Although global warming has been receding from the political agenda in recent years, a survey for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) earlier this year found that 68% of people are concerned about the issue, compared to 64% in 2012.


Further reading

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on a range of environmental issues. Items we’ve recently summarised for our database include:

Clear the air (policies and technologies to tackle air pollution), IN Green Futures, No 93 Jul 2014, pp30-31

Creating a city-wide air pollution strategy, IN Planning, No 1983 23 May 2014, pp34-35

Invisible killer (air pollution), IN Holyrood, No 317 28 Apr 2014

Manifesto 2015: policy measures for low carbon, affordable and secure energy in the UK, using our buildings

Climate change 2014: mitigation of climate change – summary for policymakers

Tricks of the trade (carbon trading), IN Resource, No 73 Sep-Oct 2013

N.B. abstracts and full text access to subscription journal articles are only available to members of the Idox Information Service.

4 thoughts on “The positive paybacks of clearing the air

  1. Pingback: Driving diesel out of town: how cities are tackling the deadly problem of air pollution | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  2. Pingback: Air quality monitoring: a role for citizen science? | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  3. Pingback: Coming up for air: tackling the toxic pollution in our cities | Idox iview

  4. Pingback: Coming up for air: tackling the toxic pollution in our cities | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

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