Policies that tackle climate change as well as poor air quality can lead to cost savings up to 10 times the cost of implementing them, according to a study by US researchers and published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Researchers compared the health benefits with the costs of putting into effect three climate policies. Introducing rigid fuel-efficiency requirements for vehicles is the most expensive, costing more than $1 trillion, with health benefits recouping only a quarter of those costs.
A cap-and-trade programme would cost $14 billion. However, it would lead to savings on healthcare costs worth up to 10 times this much, the researchers concluded. The price tag of a clean energy standard fell between the two other policies. But the health benefits only just higher than costs, at $247 billion versus $208 billion.
“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,” said lead author Tammy Thompson from Colorado State University.
She warned, however, that health benefits decline as carbon policies become more stringent, so additional emissions reductions will not translate into greater improvements.
Meanwhile, research by consultancy Cambridge Econometrics has also highlighted how climate change mitigation policies could simultaneously improve air quality. Benefits include a more productive workforce and reduced healthcare expenditure, it said.
The World Health Organisation has also recognised the links between climate and health. It says that health benefits from actions to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions could substantially offset mitigation costs. For example, sustainable urban transport could cut the heart disease and stroke incidence by up to 20%.