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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.