Cutting carbon would prevent premature deaths — study

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Limiting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would save thousands of people from premature death thanks to related benefits stemming from reductions in other air pollutants, according to a new study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study found that putting the United States on a “clean energy” path could prevent up to 175,000 premature deaths.

Health benefits could be as high as $250 billion a year, up to 10 times greater than the costs of carbon-cutting policies, the research found.

“Many people view climate change as a future problem, but our analysis shows that reducing emissions that cause warming — many of which also contribute to air pollution — would benefit public health here and now,” Drew Shindell, professor of climate sciences at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, said in a statement.

Researchers from both Duke and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies took part in the study. NASA’s Applied Sciences Program and the U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovation Technology Administration provided funding.

In December, more than 190 nations agreed in Paris to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Duke and NASA researchers looked at the carbon dioxide reductions in the transportation and energy sectors that would be required by 2030 for the United States to hold up its end of the deal.

The researchers modeled what they said were technically feasible “clean transportation” and “clean energy” scenarios that would reduce CO2 emissions by 75 and 63 percent, respectively.

They found that reducing carbon dioxide in those two sectors would lead to substantial co-benefits by also reducing more traditional air pollutants, such as particulate matter and ozone.

“Burning fossil fuels in power plants, industry and motor vehicles is the main source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions,” Shindell said. “Air pollution linked mostly to these same sources is also the leading environmental cause of premature death worldwide. By curbing their emissions, you score on two fronts.”

By 2030, the study’s clean energy scenario would prevent up to 175,000 premature deaths, and 22,000 deaths a year afterward, according to the model. The modeled CO2 reductions in the transportation sector would prevent 120,000 premature deaths and another 14,000 a year after 2030.

The authors believe that the energy and transportation scenarios are doable but acknowledged that there were political barriers to putting in place policies to achieve these reductions.

Achieving those benefits, the study says, “would require both larger and broader emissions reductions than those in current legislation or regulations.”