Tougher climate pledges ‘could save millions of lives’

Goals to clean up energy production and transport will also cut air pollution and save countries billions in fossil fuel imports

India is struggling to hit its growth targets and keep air pollution to manageable levels

India is struggling to hit its growth targets and keep air pollution to manageable levels (Pic: IBN)

By Ed King

Over 100,000 deaths linked to air pollution will be avoided every year as a result of new climate change policies implemented in China, the US and European Union, researchers say.

A study published by the New Climate Institute finds billions of dollars earmarked for fossil fuel imports will be saved and more than one million jobs in the renewable energy created by 2030.

The findings are based on the EU’s 2030 climate strategy, and on US-China climate plans published last year, which scientists estimate put the world on course for 3.1C of warming.

Negotiators aim to ratchet up action over the coming years to limit temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels.

In that scenario, the researchers say over a million lives will be saved every year, and two million jobs created.

“Recognition of both the achieved and potential co-benefits may increase the willingness of decision makers and influential stakeholders to embark on more ambition climate change mitigation strategies,” says the report.

The research does not include the avoided costs of extreme weather events linked to climate change, which a recent UN study estimated were already above $200 billion a year.

Bargaining chip

Lead author Niklas Hoehne told RTCC the data demonstrated the wide range of returns carbon cutting plans could offer governments ahead of a proposed UN climate deal later this year.

“These co-benefits are on the table but maybe not as prominent as they could be – and they should be placed in the mix when discussing future climate action,” he said.

Countries have been asked to submit their “intended nationally determined contributions” to the UN by 1 October this year.

Some, such as the EU, Switzerland, Mexico and Norway have already done so, while others like China, Brazil and India and expected to offer more details later this year.

Pollution problem

In 2012, one in eight people died as a result of poor air quality, the World Health Organisation reported last year, with 4.3 million deaths a result of fumes from cooking or heating.

Air pollution is a politically toxic issue in China and other emerging economies like India, where huge demand for electricity and a surge in the use of road vehicles has left cities choking.

A recent film called ‘Under the Dome’, chronicling appalling smogs in Beijing and Shanghai, was a brief internet hit in China before the government blocked its distribution.

By 2030, the number of Chinese deaths linked to exposure to small particles of pollution could hit 3 million, the study says.

“If China would strengthen its [target] to meet a 2C compatible trajectory, a further 1.1 million premature deaths could be spared each year by 2030.”

Tougher climate targets in the US would save 20,000 lives a year by 2030 and 40,000 in Europe, said the researchers.

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