Tag Archives: health


Renewable energy has big co-benefits in reducing toxic mercury emissions

Maximising renewables cuts mercury pollution in Europe by 33%

Maximising renewable power generation could lead to substantial co-benefits from reduced mercury pollution, according to a new study.

The main source of mercury emissions in Europe is coal-fired power stations, which contribute about 60% of the total. Mercury is deposited onto land and then washed into rivers and lakes, entering the human food chain after accumulating in fish and seafood. It is highly toxic, causing damage to the brain and nervous system, especially in unborn children. Growing evidence of the harmful effects of mercury led to the adoption of the Minamata Convention on Mercury in January 2013 – a global treaty to control mercury emissions from gold mining, power stations and industry, and ban the use of mercury in many products.

The study, led by IIASA, looked at two future scenarios for Europe – a baseline, with no change from current policies on renewable energy or greenhouse gas emissions, and a Maximum Renewables scenario. Both scenarios assume that all currently planned air quality legislation is enacted. Under the baseline scenario, energy demand grows by 7% from 2005 to 2050, and the share of renewable energy grows from 6% to 16%. In the Maximum Renewables scenario, energy demand falls (due to efficiency measures) and the share of renewable energy grows to 58% in EU countries and 46% in non-EU European countries. Electricity generation is almost carbon-free, helped by imported solar power from North Africa which meets almost a quarter of electricity demand.

In the Maximum Renewables scenario, mercury emissions in 2050 fall by a third, from 145 tonnes in the baseline to around 100 tonnes. The cumulative saving from 2005 to 2050 is 1200 tonnes, with 63% of these savings being due to the increased share of renewable energy (displacing coal), and the rest being from increased efficiency and other changes in industrial activity. Mercury emissions from combustion of biomass and waste are expected to increase slightly, but this is far outweighed by the emission cuts from burning less coal.

As would be expected, the co-benefits are greater for countries that are highly dependent on coal-fired power generation, including Poland, Germany and Turkey. But much of the mercury deposited in Europe comes from outside the continent, so the paper concludes with a reminder that action is needed at a global level, not just in Europe.

Benefits of European Climate Policies for Mercury Air Pollution. Peter Rafaj, Janusz Cofala, Jeroen Kuenen, Artur Wyrwa and Janusz Zyśk. Atmosphere 2014, 5, 45-59; doi:10.3390/atmos5010045


Co-benefits of climate action worth at least £85 billion in UK

Wide-ranging review finds benefits dominated by lifestyle change

A wide-ranging review has found that meeting carbon targets in the UK will provide at least £85 billion in health and environmental co-benefits up to 2030.

The report considered the impacts of action to meet the UK’s fourth carbon budget, for the period 2023-27. This is a step on the path towards cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 (from 1990 levels). After an extensive review of existing studies and literature, the consultants identified a wide range of both positive and negative impacts, which were quantified where possible.

The results are quite surprising. As expected, positive impacts (co-benefits) include the air quality benefits of reduced fossil fuel combustion. The health benefit of reduced exposure to fine particle (PM2.5) pollution was estimated as around £1 billion per year in 2030. Yet even greater benefits arise from a shift to healthier lifestyles. The health benefits of walking and cycling instead of driving are estimated as £2.3 billion in 2030, reflecting the importance of active lifestyles in reducing chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. There are even greater benefits through cutting traffic congestion, saving £8.4 billion in lost time.

Some negative impacts were also identified, including waste disposal and accident risk for nuclear power. The total impacts that were quantified reached around £13 billion per year by 2030, with a net present value of £85 billion over the period 2008 to 2030 (at an annual discount rate of 3.5%). However, the researchers stress that this is an incomplete estimate as not all impacts could be quantified.

An extra scenario in which consumption of meat and dairy produce was halved was also evaluated. This produced health benefits worth an estimated £11 billion per year in 2030, through reducing the intake of saturated fat, though the authors note that there is considerable uncertainty attached to this estimate.

Forster, D., Korkeala, O., Warmington, J., Holland, M. and Smith, A. (2013) Review of the impacts of carbon budget measures on human health and the environment. Report to the Committee on Climate Change. Harwell, Oxfordshire, UK: Ricardo-AEA and EMRC.



We cannot meet air quality targets without climate action

It is impossible to cut fine particle emissions to WHO limits without switching away from fossil fuels

Air quality legislation will fail to keep fine particle pollution within World Health Organisation limits, unless combined with a shift away from fossil fuels and uptake of cleaner cooking stoves in developing countries, a new study concludes.

Although pollution control is improving in OECD countries, around 80% of the world’s population are exposed to concentrations of fine particles smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) well above the recommended limit of 10 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m<sup>3</sup>). Emissions are increasing, due to growing vehicle use in developing countries, plus an increase in the population dependent on traditional solid fuels for cooking and heating.

Over 2 billion people, mainly in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, rely on burning coal, wood, dung or crop waste in smoky open fires or inefficient stoves, causing serious pollution both outdoors and indoors. There are significant health impacts, especially for women and children who spend a long time indoors in badly ventilated houses, close to stoves and fires. In this context, biomass is not a climate-friendly fuel because it is often gathered from unsustainable sources, leading to deforestation. The black carbon in the smoke is also a greenhouse gas, as well as increasing melting of snow and ice through darkening the surface so that it absorbs more heat (the albedo effect).

Scientists at IIASA modelled five future scenarios with different policies on air quality, climate change and access to cleaner cooking fuels and stoves (such as gas, biogas, LPG or efficient biomass stoves). They found that if air quality legislation was frozen at 2005 levels (scenario a), pollution would increase by 50% by 2030. Even under current and planned air quality legislation (scenario b), global average fine particle concentrations will increase by 30%, from 26 μg/m<sup>3</sup> in 2005 to 34 μg/m<sup>3</sup> in 2030, well above the recommended limit of 10 μg/m<sup>3</sup>.

But emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particles could be 40% lower than this under a scenario combining planned air quality legislation with action on climate change and access to clean household energy (scenario c). This included global action to limit climate change to 2<sup>o</sup>C, through improved energy efficiency and a shift to clean, low carbon energy, plus policies to provide cleaner cooking stoves for an extra half a million people through subsidies and microfinance.

Even this scenario would still leave many people exposed to dangerous pollution levels, with an average global PM2.5 concentration exposure of 26 μg/m<sup>3</sup>. But pollution can be reduced still further by bringing in strict air quality regulation and by policies to introduce universal access to clean cooking fuels and stoves (scenario e). This would mean that pollution levels would be below 35 μg/m<sup>3</sup> everywhere, and more than half of the global population would achieve the safe limit of 10 μg/m<sup>3</sup>.

The health benefits would be dramatic – a reduction in disability-adjusted life-years lost from air pollution (DALYs) from around 60 million (scenario a) to under 15 million (scenario e). Climate action also reduces the costs of air quality regulation by about 40%, as the shift away from burning fossil fuels reduces the need for costly end-of-pipe pollution control methods. Energy access policies are very cost-effective, with huge reductions in health impacts achieved for just $3.5 billion per year (in $US 2005) for the partial energy access scenario, and $17 billion per year for the universal access scenario. The paper estimates the combined cost of all policies as around $1400 billion in 2030, though this would be offset by the health benefits including reduced cost of health care, increased productivity and avoided death and illness (not evaluated in the paper).

The authors conclude that there are significant synergies between the goals of improving air quality, controlling climate change and providing access to clean cooking fuels, with substantial health benefits that would be enhanced by a combined policy.

Rao, S., Pachauri, S., Dentener, F., Kinney, P., Klimont, Z., Riahi, K., Schoepp, W. (2013). Better air for better health: Forging synergies in policies for energy access, climate change and air pollution. Global Environmental Change. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.05.003.


awesome sky

Cleaner air from climate policy could save two million lives every year

Savings from reduced air pollution outweigh the cost of climate policy through to 2050

A study published in Nature Climate Change estimates that climate policy could save millions of lives every year by cutting air pollution. The health benefits would outweigh the cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The research team, led by Dr Jason West at the University of North Carolina, used the latest data on the health impacts of fine particle and ozone pollution to model two scenarios: one with strong global action to limit greenhouse gas concentrations to 525ppm by 2100, and one with no climate action. The climate action scenario entailed a shift away from using fossil fuels, which are the main source of air pollution, by cutting energy demand and switching to nuclear and renewable energy (mainly wind) and biofuels.

They found that the scenario with strong climate action led to half a million fewer premature deaths from air pollution globally every year by 2030, rising to 1.3 million in 2050 and over 2 million by 2100. The model included the impacts of fine particles on lung cancer and cardiopulmonary disease, and the effect of ozone on respiratory problems.

The health benefits are worth between $50 and $380 for every ton of carbon dioxide removed – which is more than the cost of cutting carbon emissions in 2030 and 2050, and within the lower part of the range of cost estimates in 2100.

The health benefits were strongest in the densely populated regions of East and South Asia, North America and Europe, especially in highly polluted parts of Asia. In 2030, two thirds of the global benefits occurred in China, and in East Asia the benefits were 10 to 70 times greater than the costs of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

By linking a model of the global atmosphere with a model of energy economics, the team were able to account for a number of factors not included in earlier assessments. They included the effect of long range transport of pollution, the growth in ozone pollution due to methane emissions and the impact of climate change itself on air pollution (such as increased ozone production in hotter, sunnier conditions). They also used a higher monetary value for the loss of a human life in future years, as a result of economic growth, and took account of increasing population and susceptibility to pollution. Together with the use of updated values for the health impacts of air pollution, this resulted in higher estimates of co-benefits than those produced by previous studies.

However, the study did not include the health benefits for children and adults under the age of 30, the benefit of avoided illness (rather than premature death) due to air pollution, or the effect of climate policy on indoor air pollution from stoves in developing countries. Inclusion of these effects could result in even higher estimates of the benefits of climate policy for human health.

Co-benefits of mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions for future air quality and human health (2013) J. Jason West, Steven J. Smith, Raquel A. Silva, et al., Nature Climate Change 3, 885–889 doi:10.1038/nclimate2009



Climate policy has ‘enormous’ synergies with energy security and air quality

New study shows savings of $100-600 billion a year in air quality control and energy security costs
Tough climate policy can set us on the path to energy sustainability, by cutting air pollution and improving energy security, a new study concludes.

Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria modelled hundreds of different energy policy scenarios. They found that the scenarios with stringent climate policy produced huge benefits for health and energy security, with big cost savings compared to the other scenarios.

Decarbonising the energy system would cut pollution by fine particles and ozone, saving 23 million disability-adjusted life-years worldwide by 2030, compared to a baseline scenario in which all currently planned air quality legislation was enacted. At the same time, energy efficiency improvements and a shift to low-carbon energy (including locally produced renewable energy) would strengthen the energy security of individual countries and regions, by increasing the diversity of the energy mix and reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels.

The cost savings are potentially huge: $100-600 billion annually by 2030 in avoided expenditure on air quality control and energy security, which is 0.1-0.7% of global GDP. This would substantially offset the costs of investing in efficient and low-carbon technologies, estimated as up to 1.5% of global GDP. There would be further benefits from avoided health care costs and avoided climate adaptation costs, which were not included in the analysis.

The paper concludes that “the common practice of focusing on single issues ignores potentially enormous synergies”, highlighting the need for more holistic policy approaches.

Climate policies can help resolve energy security and air pollution challenge, McCollum, David L., Volker Krey, Keywan Riahi, Peter Kolp, Arnulf Grubler, Marek Makowski and Nebojsa Nakicenovic. Climatic Change 119: 479-494. July 2013.