Reducing China’s CO2 Emissions Would Curb Deadly Air Pollution

China’s pledge to cut its carbon dioxide emissions beginning in 2030 includes a generous gift for its downwind neighbours: less deadly air pollution.

By 2030, there will be nearly 2,000 fewer premature deaths in the United States from inhaling pollutants emitted in China, according to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. South Korea and Japan are also expected to benefit.

“It reminds us that air pollution doesn’t stop at national boundaries,” said Valerie Karplus, a co-leader of the study and an assistant professor of global economics and management at MIT.

The study, which was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, used computer models that track pollutants and data from global health statistics.

Needless to say, China will be the main beneficiary if it is able to curb its emissions, primarily by departing from its heavy reliance on coal and other fossil fuels. According to Chinese studies cited by the new research, carbon-cutting policy solutions could cut between 55,000 and 94,000 premature deaths by 2030.

Nearly 60% of these deaths would have come from inhaling what scientists call PM2.5 or tiny particles that can invade the human body. The remaining 40% would have been caused by inhaling ozone, a toxic gas that forms when pollutants are heated in the lower atmosphere by sunlight.

The study, which partly focused on pollutants from China that drift over the Pacific and then over the United States, showed that fine particles — which would cause most of the premature deaths in South Korea and Japan — tend to become diluted before they arrive here in the United States. Ozone, on the other hand, remains more potent and would have caused most of the avoided 1,900 premature U.S. deaths.


A second MIT study released this week shows that India is another nation emitting large amounts of CO2 from fossil fuels. It could combine an economy-wide price on carbon emissions with a renewable portfolio standard to meet its pledge to reduce emissions and increase its carbon-free power by about 40% of installed capacity in 2030.

The study, which appears in the journal Climate Change Economics, estimates that “declining wind and solar costs could enable India to set more ambitious climate policies in future years without significantly impeding economic growth.”

It notes that India’s economy is “booming” and that its electricity production, which increased by five times in the past three decades, would triple in the next 20 years as India struggles to meet its climate pledge. The nation has promised to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 33% to 35% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.

Karplus, who also co-authored this study, noted that globally, it has been “politically impossible” to get carbon prices high enough to meet the Paris Agreement’s CO2 goals.

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