Climate policies are 50% more effective when they consider air pollution

Climate policies are up to 50% more effective when they account for air pollution improvements, according to a new paper published by the Clean Air Fund and Dalberg Advisors. 

Outdoor air pollution causes over 4.2 million deaths every year – more than malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined.

Fossil-fuel combustion accounts for about two-thirds of human exposure to such air pollution and is also the main driver of climate change.

However, the report states that decision-makers too often address them separately and overlook the co-benefits of joined-up action.

The briefing paper finds that factoring in wider savings on healthcare, economic productivity and inequality reduction from tackling air pollution when deciding climate policies can support bolder, faster action on air pollution and climate change.

Taking into account air pollution benefits could also lead to policy packages that increase emission reduction potential by up to 50%, while also offering a positive net return on overall investment.

In the EU, for example, it is estimated that spending €38-40bn a year to adopt all feasible measures to control both greenhouse gases and air pollution would generate up to €157 billion per annum in health benefits.

assorted cars on asphalt road beside buildings

A joined-up approach would also avoid unintended consequences, such as governments encouraging the switch from petrol to diesel vehicles in the hope of reducing C02 emissions but in fact, increasing nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Jane Burston, Executive Director of the Clean Air Fund said: ‘Of course carbon reduction is crucial, but it’s just one piece of the cost-benefit analysis governments need. Climate change and air pollution are both mainly caused by burning fossil fuels, so governments are missing a trick by treating them in isolation.

‘When you toup the wider benefits, different solutions emerge which are better for the planet, better for our health and better for economies. So tackling air pollution ticks the big boxes most voters care about. 

‘We can’t afford to keep looking at this problem back to front. Our climate efforts have been hamstrung by the unintended consequences of blinkered thinking on things like diesel cars, for example. We need solutions that join the dots and deliver better returns on all fronts. The result will be faster, fairer and cheaper climate solutions that lay the foundations for healthier and more prosperous societies. We can’t afford to do anything else.’

The paper calls for governments meeting at COP 26 to take a number of steps to promote this kind of thinking in climate policy-making.

Photo by RayBay


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