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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 23 October, 2018
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The Paris Climate Agreement is REALLY expensive... but it could end up saving us money

Its cost could be outweighed by health savings in the area of air pollution disease and death.

File photo of the ESB power station at Poolbeg in Dublin, in 2009.
File photo of the ESB power station at Poolbeg in Dublin, in 2009.
Image: RollingNews.ie

ALTHOUGH IRELAND RANKS the lowest of all European countries on climate change progress, it is signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement – a huge deal signed in December 2015 for countries to work together to tackle the mammoth issue.

That international accord between 195 countries will end up costing trillions of euro globally.

However, a new study has revealed the costs of implementing it between 2020 and 2050 could be outweighed by the health savings.

According to The Lancet Planetary Health journal, estimates from a modelling study show the reduced incidence of air pollution-related disease and death could offset the global costs.

From 2020, the countries signed up to the Agreement aim to reduce the impacts of climate change by preventing the global average temperature from increasing to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. They eventually hope to limit that to less than 1.5°C.

Although some progress has been made on fundraising with the UN’s voluntary Green Climate Fund, there are no agreed details as yet of how these targets will be paid for, and thus achieved.

Different scenarios

The authors of this study are hoping the research into how good the health impacts could be will nudge political leaders into putting up the necessary cash – and implementing the policies required to reduce emissions.

“We hope that the large health co-benefits we have estimated for different scenarios and countries might help policymakers move towards adopting more ambitious climate policies and measures to reduce air pollution, and to consider how to share the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution-related disease,” Professor Anil Markandya, Basque Centre for Climate Change, Spain said.

The researchers looked at air-pollution related deaths, including those caused by respiratory disease, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, lung cancer, and acute lower respiratory airway infections, and their costs in the US, the EU27, China, India and the rest of the world.

They looked at what would happen if nothing was done; if countries continue their current policies and spend; and three different strategies for implementing and funding the Paris Agreement towards the 2°C and the 1.5°C limits.

The second option – current country-level strategies – are estimated to cost €6.16 trillion and could potentially lead to 5% fewer (122 million) air pollution-related deaths globally between 2020 and 2050. That would compare to option one – no mitigation strategies being in place – which would see 128 million deaths.

With this second scenario, the US and EU would contribute the majority of the costs (US: 66.3%, €4 trillion; EU: 28.9%, €1.81 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 implementing the Paris Climate Agreement ranged from 0.5 to 1% global GDP (€18.4 trillion to €34.14 trillion) for the 2°C target, and from 1 to 1.3% global GDP (€33 trillion to €46 trillion) for the 1.5°C target. The study estimates significantly fewer air pollution-related deaths between 2020 and 2050 globally under these options – reducing deaths by 21 to 27% if the 2°C target were met (that is between 93 and 101 million deaths) and by 28 to 32% if the 1.5°C target were met (between 87 to 92 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 to 2.5 times greater than the costs of climate change mitigation, globally.

If the constant emissions ratio strategy to reach that 2°C target was implemented it could mean the health savings would be double the global policy costs. That is €44.4 million saved, with just €18.4 million spent.

In November 2017, the Environment Protection Agency said poor air quality is directly linked to about 1,500 deaths in Ireland every year. TheJournal.ie Factcheck found Minister Denis Naughten’s claim that four people die because of air pollution every day in this country mostly true. (Read more about that here.)

China and India to benefit

Under all three of the scenarios proposed, the countries likely to see the biggest health savings from improved climate change mitigation are India and China – with India accounting for roughly 43% of the health savings in all scenarios, and China accounting for roughly 55%. This is because these countries have large populations, many of whom are exposed to higher than acceptable pollution levels.

In fact, the total cost of the policies would be completely offset by the health savings.

It wouldn’t be quite the same for the US and the EU27 where, although the contribution would be large, it wouldn’t be complete.

However, the authors note that these health savings are just one of many of the benefits of reduced climate change. “Attaining the 2°C target comes with considerable benefits from reduced climate change globally, such as health benefits, employment opportunities, reduced loss of or damage to property, and reduced losses in agriculture. Furthermore, attaining a 1.5°C target has even greater climate benefits,” Professor Markandya added.

“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,” Professor Philip Landrigan, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, USA, said in an accompanying comment to the article.

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.”

US participation

US President Donald Trump withdrew America from the Paris Climate Agreement on 1 June 2017 but there is a four-year exit process so it cannot actually leave until a day after the 2020 Presidential Election. Earlier this year, he said that the US may reenter the accord if it was a “completely different deal”.

It is still the top contributor to the Green Climate Fund, which was set up by the United Nations Climate Change conference in 2010.

As of January 2018, the Green Climate Fund has raised US$10.3 billion in pledges from 43 state governments, including $3 billion from the US and $2.7 million from Ireland.

Ireland formally signed the Paris Climate Agreement in April 2017. Ireland, through the European Union, indicated its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.

However, a report in November last year showed that Ireland is the worst performing country in Europe for taking action against climate change.

Dropping 28 places from last year, Ireland ranked 49 out of 59 countries in the 2018 Climate Change Performance Index, issued by Germanwatch and the NewClimate Institute.

This was the lowest ranking of any European country. Sweden and Norway ranked top of the index.

The authors of this study in The Lancet note some limitations, including that their health cost estimates only look at air pollution-related disease and death, and there could be further health savings from other pollution-related disease. The study also relies on the accuracy of the models it used. They say more research will be needed to handle to exact distribution of costs across countries when the mitigation strategy for the Paris Agreement is agreed. 

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