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Economic benefits would outweigh climate policy cost for China

Under the Paris Accord, most countries in the world have banded together in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop global temperatures from climbing more than 2 degrees Celsius.

A new study has found that for China, the worst offender in terms of CO2 emissions, the economic and health benefits of following through with the Paris Accord goals would offset the total cost of any climate policy implemented.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conducted the research, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The results show that if China lowers emissions, it would significantly reduce the number of deaths related to air pollution and create $339 billion in savings by 2030, four times the cost of any new climate change measures.

“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, the study’s co-author. “This is a motivating factor for countries to engage in global climate policy.”

The majority of China’s energy is coal-powered, which means that the country emits more greenhouse gases than most other nations in the world.

High levels of air pollution have caused a major public health problem with many facing an increased risk of respiratory issues and cardiovascular disease.

“Air pollution is an immediate problem that is directly linked to many of the economic, energy-related activities that are also responsible for greenhouse gases,” said Valerie Karplus, leader of the research. “We wanted to understand to what extent you could address air quality by targeting carbon dioxide through a representative climate policy, carbon pricing.”

For the study, the researchers created a new framework that combined an energy-economic model, the China Regional Energy Model (C-REM), with an atmospheric chemistry model called GEOS-Chem.

The team was able to model the economic and health benefits of new energy systems at the provincial level with C-Rem and tested four different scenarios to see how policy changes would impact air pollution, economic activity, and energy use.

There was a business-as-usual scenario where no changes were put in place and the remaining three policies reduced emissions by three, four, and five percent per year through 2030.

After testing the different scenarios with the modeling framework, the researchers found that a business-as-usual scenario would result in more than 2.3 million premature, pollution-related deaths by 2030.

The other three scenarios would save up to 160,000 premature deaths.

The researchers then took these results and quantified them into a monetary value and found that a 3, 4, or 5 percent per year policy would create savings of $138.4 billion, $339.6 billion, and $534.8 billion, respectively.

The life-saving health benefits would create savings that more than outweigh any costs of implementing climate policies for China.

“This is really a sustainability story,” said Selin. “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.”

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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