A Wedge-Based Approach to Estimating Health Co-Benefits of Climate Change Mitigation Activities in the United States

Published in: Climatic Change, v. 127, no. 2, Nov. 2014, p. 199-210

Posted on RAND.org on November 21, 2014

by John M. Balbus, Jeffery B. Greenblatt, Ramya Chari, Dev Millstein, Kristie L. Ebi

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Research Questions

  1. What are the potential health care savings from reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
  2. Can health-related savings offset the costs of implementing climate change policies?

While it has been recognized that actions reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can have significant positive and negative impacts on human health through reductions in ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations, these impacts are rarely taken into account when analyzing specific policies. This study presents a new framework for estimating the change in health outcomes resulting from implementation of specific carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction activities, allowing comparison of different sectors and options for climate mitigation activities. Our estimates suggest that in the year 2020, the reductions in adverse health outcomes from lessened exposure to PM2.5 would yield economic benefits in the range of $6 to $30 billion (in 2008 USD), depending on the specific activity. This equates to between $40 and $198 per metric ton of CO2 in health benefits. Specific climate interventions will vary in the health co-benefits they provide as well as in potential harms that may result from their implementation. Rigorous assessment of these health impacts is essential for guiding policy decisions as efforts to reduce GHG emissions increase in scope and intensity.

Key Findings

  • In 2020, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. could save between $6 and $14 billion in health care costs, depending on how the reductions are achieved.
  • This would equal a health care savings of between $40 and $93 for every metric ton of carbon dioxide reduced.
  • Extremely aggressive strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could yield between $10 to $24 billion worth of savings.
  • Fewer health problems related to greenhouse gas emissions—and thus lower health care costs—could help offset the price of implementing climate change policies.

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