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Quickly reducing carbon emissions could save 153 million lives

If immediate measures are taken to drastically reduce carbon emissions worldwide, it could save millions of lives, according to a new study.

The study was conducted by researchers from Duke University and calculated the number of lives that could be saved in 154 different urban areas if emissions were reduced sooner rather than later.

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the research is the first of its kind to show the preventable number of deaths from air pollution on a city by city basis.

Although capping emissions is a top priority, the more favorable plan is postponing major emission cuts in order to reduce the cost of restructuring the energy sector.

“The lowest-cost approach only looks at how much it will cost to transform the energy sector,” said Drew Shindell, the study’s first author. “It ignores the human cost of more than 150 million lost lives or the fact that slashing emissions in the near term will reduce long-term climate risk and avoid the need to rely on future carbon dioxide removal.”

The researchers projected the number of preventable deaths by running computer simulations of three future emission scenarios.

The simulations projected pollution levels under different emissions regulations and their associated health risks.

The first scenario examined the impact of accelerating carbon emissions with no negative emissions over the remainder of the 21st century. The second scenario used higher carbon emissions in the short term but still met the Paris Climate Accord goals by the end of the century.

The third scenario simulated the effects of radically accelerating carbon emission reductions.  Each scenario projected pollution levels, and from this, the researchers could infer the health risks and mortality rates linked to varying levels of CO2 pollution.

The scenario with the quickest reduction of carbon emissions had the greatest benefit regarding preventable deaths.

In India, over 8 million lives could be saved in major urban areas like Delhi and Kolkata. Thirteen Asian and African cities showed one million preventable deaths, and in 80 cities that number was at least 100,000.

The results call into the question current emission standards and plans for reducing CO2 pollution. The health risks from increased pollution and emissions should be a priority when working to mitigate climate change.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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