Reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases could save up to 3 million lives a year by 2100, a new study has suggested.
The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, says that the benefits of cutting air pollution by globally reducing the use of fossil fuels are sufficient to justify action alone, even without considering the potential impacts of climate change.
Previous studies have linked air pollution to deaths from lung cancer and heart failure. In Northern China, pollution caused by burning coal has been found to reduce average life expectancy by five-and-a-half years.
The researchers developed a model which allowed them to simulate two different future scenarios – one in which climate change is stabilised by cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and one in which emissions continue unchecked.
They found that curbing emissions could prevent 300,000 to 700,000 premature deaths annually by the year 2030, with two-thirds of these deaths in China. By 2050, the potential annual death toll could rise to 800,000 to 1.8 million. By 2100, between 1.4 million and 3 million lives could be saved every year.
The study also found that the approximate value of the health benefits delivered by cutting a tonne of CO2 emissions was $50-380 (£31-237), which is higher than the projected cost of cutting carbon in the coming decades.
The potential benefits are especially clear in China, where the value of health improvements works out between 10 and 70 times greater than the cost of reducing emissions, due to the country’s dense population and poor air quality.
“Climate change is an important problem that needs strong action, and our study suggests serious benefits to reducing greenhouse gases in addition to helping slow down climate change“, said Jason West, lead author of the study, in an interview with LiveScience.
“Many times, long-term global problems such as climate change are hard to act on, but here we show that reducing greenhouse gas emissions can have near-term, local benefits for health, as well, which might strengthen the arguments for action with governments and citizens.”