Experts say the health benefits could outweigh the costs of implementing the Paris Climate Agreement.

New modelling suggests that reduced air pollution-related disease and death from 2020 to 2050 will bring healthcare savings greater that the expense of meeting Paris Climate Agreement targets, which is due to commence in 2020 and aims to prevent the global average temperature from increasing to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

A number of existing models were combined to estimate emission levels, air pollution-related deaths (as a result of respiratory disease, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, lung cancer, and acute lower respiratory airway infections) and their costs, costs of climate change mitigation, and healthcare co-benefits for the US, EU-27, China, India, and the rest of the world. 

They modelled the impacts of doing nothing, continuing current country-level policies, and three different strategies for implementing and funding the Paris Agreement towards the 2°C and the 1.5°C limits.

The scenarios vary depending on the relative share of the burden that high or lower income countries take on (the capability, constant emissions rate and equal per capita strategies). 

Current country-level strategies are estimated to cost US$7.5 trillion and could potentially lead to 5 per cent fewer air pollution-related deaths globally between 2020-2050, compared to no mitigation strategies being in place (128 million deaths for no mitigation vs. 122 million deaths using country-by-country interventions). 

Under this scenario, the US and EU would contribute the majority of the costs (US: 66.3 per cent, $4.9 trillion. EU: 28.9 per cent, $2.2 trillion), while under the Paris Climate Agreement costs would be spread more evenly across all countries – with cost increases likely to be smallest for the US and EU, and largest for the rest of the world, India, and China. 

Overall, the costs of the implementing the Paris Climate Agreement ranged from 0.5-1 per cent of global GDP ($22.1 trillion-$41.6 trillion) for the 2°C target, and from 1-1.3 per cent global GDP ($39.7 trillion-$56.1 trillion) for the 1.5°C target.

The study estimates significantly fewer air pollution-related deaths between 2020-2050 globally under these options – reducing deaths by 21-27% if the 2°C target were met (between 101-93 million deaths) and by 28-32 per cent if the 1.5°C target were met (between 92-87 million deaths).

Depending on the strategy used to mitigate climate change, estimates suggest that the health savings from reduced air pollution could be between 1.4-2.5 times greater than the costs of climate change mitigation, globally. 

“The key contribution of this report is that it makes visible the very large, previously hidden health and economic benefits of climate mitigation and shows that these benefits are greater than the costs of climate change prevention,” says Professor Philip Landrigan from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, USA.

“Political and economic arguments against climate mitigation and pollution control are typically based on short-sighted, one-sided, and self-serving calculations that consider only the tangible, concrete, and relatively easily counted costs of controlling emissions.

“This report’s carefully crafted conclusion that the health and economic benefits of climate mitigation significantly outweigh its costs provides a powerful rebuttal to those arguments.”