Reducing carbon emissions pays for itself, researchers say

According to MIT researchers, savings on health care spending and other costs related to air pollution are significant in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions.

“Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality,” notes co-author Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT. “In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution.”

Researchers examined in contrast the health benefits of three climate policies and the economic costs of the policies: a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy and a cap-and-trade program.

They discovered that savings on health care spending could make up for 26 percent of the cost to put into action a transportation policy, but as much as 10.5 times the cost of putting into action a cap-and-trade program. The savings on health care spending, on the other hand, were only slightly larger than the cost of implementing a clean-energy standard.

“If cost-benefit analyses of climate policies don’t include the significant health benefits from healthier air, they dramatically underestimate the benefits of these policies,” explains lead author Tammy Thompson of Colorado State University.

However, researchers warn that after a certain point, most of the health benefits have already been realized, and additional emissions reductions won’t convert into greater improvements.

“While air-pollution benefits can help motivate carbon policies today, these carbon policies are just the first step,” Selin adds. “To manage climate change, we’ll have to make carbon cuts that go beyond the initial reductions that lead to the largest air-pollution benefits.”

The study’s findings are described in the journal Nature Climate Change.



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