A new study by the prestigious Massachusts Insitute of Technology (MIT) suggests cost to China of climate policies targeting CO2 reduction will be more than cancelled out by reductions in healthcare costs from air pollution.
The cost of reducing CO2 emissions over the long-term can be recouped by governments from short-term savings in healthcare costs arising from air pollution, according to the study published this week by MIT.
The study looked at the cost of climate policies in China and the extent to which they would be offset by better air quality.
The researchers found that by meeting its Paris Agreement pledge to stay within a two degrees trajectory for global warming, China will simultaneously avoid thousands of unnecessary deaths from air pollution across every one of its provinces.
The lower death rate would result in savings of $339bn by 2030 – enough money to meet China’s climate targets more than four times over, according to the researchers.
“The country could actually come out net positive, just based on the health co-benefits associated with air quality improvements, relative to the cost of a climate policy,” said Noelle Eckley Selin, co-author of the study and an associate professor in at MIT. “This is a motivating factor for countries to engage in global climate policy.”
China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but has promised to peak its emissions before 2030 – a target studies suggest it is on track to hit years early. It is also battling a serious air pollution problem, with major cities such as Beijing afflicted by some of the worst air quality in the world.
Many of the measures the government is deploying to combat air pollution, such as shuttering coal-fired power plants and encouraging electric vehicles, also help cut carbon emissions.
The researchers found that the more stringent China makes its carbon targets, the greater health and economic benefits arise.
“This is really a sustainability story,” Selin added. “We have all these policy goals for a transition toward a more sustainable society. Mitigating air pollution, a leading cause of death, is one of them, and avoiding dangerous climate change is another. Thinking about how we might inform policy to address these objectives simultaneously, when they actually interact economically and atmospherically, is important to sort out from a science perspective.”