Savings on health costs would help offset more ambitious climate pledges

The Climate Action Tracker, which involves five independent research organisations analysing the emissions reduction targets of the nations represented at COP21 in Paris has totted up the sums now that 158 climate pledges have been officially tabled.

The upshot is that the pledges will result in 2.7 degrees Celsius of temperature rise in 2100, if the governments all met their pledges. Everyone knows that won’t be enough:

“This level of warming is still well above the agreed limit of 2degrees, and even further above the 1.5degrees called for by most governments here at the Paris climate summit,” said Marcia Rocha of Climate Analytics.

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What the pledges amount to. Climate Action Tracker

In a bid to point out the benefits of getting closer to that 2 degree limit scientists say we need to stay within to avoid dangerous climate change, the Climate Action Tracker has also done some work on the co-benefits of reducing emissions at a slightly higher rate now:

Our result show that the emissions gap in 2030 between governments’ INDCs and the 2°C temperature goal, currently around 17 GtCO2e,could be closed by 4.6 – 7.8 GtCO2e or 27-46%, without imposing additional economic burdens on those undertaking the additional effort.

That’s because by reducing emissions, nations avoid costs associated with illness and mortality from “harmful anthropological air pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone”.

Reduced air pollution lowers the risk of mortality from air pollution-related illnesses, such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, that would otherwise impose significant economic impacts on national health care systems and economies.

Other benefits exist too that haven’t even been quantified in this analysis – job creation, improved energy security, reduced impacts of air pollution on ecosystems, and increases in rural electrification. Nor does it account for the actual costs nations will face due to “sea level rise, extreme weather events, reduced crop yield and the need for adaptation”.

What it means is that if just four China, India, Japan, Russia and the EU were to factor in the cost benefits of reducing mortality from air pollutants “they could reduce the 2 degree emissions gap by 25-45% and  the 1.5 degree gap by 20-34%,” according to the Climate Action Tracker.

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Interestingly, the US wouldn’t benefit because “the value of co-benefits from reduced air pollution already offsets its mitigation costs, according to each of the analysis approaches employed”.

And what about New Zealand? Well, we could save a lot on these health-related costs too if we reduce emissions, allowing us to improve our emissions-reduction commitment which the Climate Action Tracker rates as “inadequate”.

According to research from the Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) study, the social costs of air pollution topped $4 billion in 2006. It has decreased since as steps have been taken to reduce emissions.

In 2012, air pollution from human-made PM10 was associated with an estimated [3]:

  • 1000 premature deaths
  • 520 extra hospital admissions for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases
  • 1.35 million restricted activity days (when symptoms were sufficient to prevent usual activities, such as work or study).

The main air pollution categories are outlined below:

What the pledges amount to
What the pledges amount to

If we could move to renewable sources of energy to replace wood and coal fires alone, we’d save a huge amount on health-related costs in our part of the world. Food for thought as negotiations continue in Paris.

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