Tackling climate change
by cutting greenhouse gas emissions could save millions of lives
because of the cleaner air that would result, according to a recent
Researchers predict that, by 2050, about 100 million premature deaths caused by respiratory health problems linked to air pollution
could be avoided through measures such as low emission cars. The
economic benefits of saving those lives in developing countries such as
China and India could also strengthen the negotiating hand of the UK
and Europe at a crucial UN climate summit in Copenhagen this December.
Johannes Bollen, one of the authors of the report for the Netherlands Environment Agency,
said the 100 million early deaths could be prevented by cutting global
emissions by 50% by 2050, a target consistent with those being
considered internationally. "
The reports warns that if governments continue with business-as-usual energy
use, then population growth, ageing demographics and increased
urbanisation will cause premature deaths from pollution to increase by
30% in OECD countries, and 100% outside the OECD.
study also has implications for which technologies are chosen to reduce
CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The study points out that while carbon
capture and storage technology can capture CO2, it does not usually
trap other air pollutants. Last month, the energy and climate minister,
Miliband, put "clean coal" at the centre of UK energy policy by
pledging no new coal-fired power stations would be built without at
least partial CCS.
In contrast, the report said,
reducing car emissions and the number of vehicles on the road would
lead to both lower greenhouse gases and fewer local air pollutants from
exhausts. Jim Storey, air quality policy adviser at the UK's
Environment Agency, said he wanted climate policies that account for
their effect on air pollution: "There are win-wins for climate change
and air quality that should be pursued with all haste, such as
improving energy efficiency in houses, and reducing emissions from
transport. Transport remains the largest cause of air pollution in the
UK, and accounts for around 20% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions."
The report also said the economic gains of cleaner air could be attractive for developing countries during climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen
later this year. By not losing people of working age to pollution,
India and China, for example, stand to gain 4-5% in GDP in 2050 as a
result of cleaner air, compared with around 1% of GDP in OECD countries
such as the UK. "The local air pollution benefits of climate mitigation
policies provide an additional economic incentive for countries to
participate in a global agreement to mitigate greenhouse gas
emissions," said Bollen.
The health threat of air pollution is well known. Recent research from the American Lung Association
revealed that 186 million US residents live in areas with dangerous
levels of air pollution. "Despite almost 40 years since the Clean Air
Act passed in 1970, six in 10 Americans still live in dirty air areas,
areas where the air is unhealthful to breathe," said the ALA's Paul
Billings. As well as citing dirty diesel vehicles and coal
power plants as significant contributors to US air pollution, the
Association's report called for a clean-up of cruise ships, container
ships and tankers, which it said will be responsible for approximately
45% of US particulate emissions by 2030. Confidential data released last month
from the shipping industry suggested 15 of the world's biggest ships
may now emit as much pollution as all the world's 760m cars.
the UK, a report published this month by the London Assembly
Environment Committee claimed that poor air quality in London may have
contributed to 3,000 premature deaths in the capital in 2005. London
has the worst air quality in the UK and among the worst in Europe for
small, sooty particles known as PM10s and nitrogen dioxide.
key air pollutants that can harm human health include nitrogen dioxide,
sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, ammonia and particulate
matter and are produced by burning fossil fuels in power plants and
vehicles. Children and the elderly, plus people with respiratory
conditions such as asthma, are particularly at risk.