Coordinate climate and air quality policies to improve public health | MIT News

As America’s largest investment in fighting climate change, the Inflation Reduction Act positions the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by about 40% below 2005 levels by 2030. But as it approaches United States upon achieving its international climate commitment, the legislation is also expected to produce significant and more immediate improvements in the nation’s health. If it can accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy alternatives, the IRA will drastically reduce atmospheric concentrations of fine particles known to exacerbate respiratory and cardiovascular disease and cause premature deaths, along with other air pollutants that degrade human health. A recent study shows that eliminating air pollution from fossil fuels in the contiguous United States would prevent more than 50,000 premature deaths and avoid more than $ 600 billion in health care costs each year.

While national climate policies such as those advanced by the IRA can simultaneously help mitigate climate change and improve air quality, their results can vary widely when it comes to improving public health. This is because the potential health benefits associated with improving air quality are much greater in some regions and economic sectors than in others. These benefits can be maximized, however, through a prudent combination of climate and air quality policies.

Several past studies have evaluated the likely health impacts of various policy combinations, but their usefulness has been limited due to their reliance on a small set of standard policy scenarios. More versatile tools are needed to model a wide range of climate and air quality policy combinations and assess their collective effects on air quality and human health. Now researchers from the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and the MIT Institute for Data, Systems and Society (IDSS) have developed a flexible and publicly available scenario tool that does just that.

In a study published in the journal Development of the geoscientific model, The MIT team presents its Air Pollution Scenarios Tool (TAPS), which can be used to estimate the likely air quality and health outcomes of a wide range of climate and air quality policies at regional, sectoral and fuel-based levels.

“This tool can help integrate the isolated sustainability issues of air pollution and climate action,” says study lead author William Atkinson, who was most recently a Biogen Graduate Fellow and Research Assistant. to Policy of the IDSS Technology and Policy Program (TPP) Involvement initiative. “Climate action does not guarantee a clean air future and vice versa, but the problems have similar sources that imply shared solutions if done well.”

The study’s initial application of TAPS shows that with current air quality policies and short-term commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate, short-term reductions in pollution give way to long-term increases. term, given the projected growth of emission-intensive industrial and agricultural processes in developing regions. More ambitious climate and air quality policies could be complementary, each substantially reducing different pollutants to deliver huge short- and long-term health benefits around the world.

“The significance of this work is that we can more confidently identify long-term emission reduction strategies that also support improvements in air quality,” says MIT Joint Program Deputy Director C. Adam Schlosser, co-author of the study. . “This is a win-win for setting climate targets that are also healthy targets.”

TAPS designs air quality and health outcomes based on three integrated components: a recent detailed global inventory of emissions resulting from human activities (eg fossil fuel combustion, land use change, industrial processes); multiple scenarios of human activities that generate emissions from now to the year 2100, produced by the MIT Economic Projection and Policy Analysis model; and emission intensity scenarios (emissions per unit of activity) based on recent data from the model of interactions and synergies of greenhouse gases and air pollution.

“We see the climate crisis as a health crisis and believe evidence-based approaches are the key to making the most of this historic investment in the future, particularly for vulnerable communities,” says Johanna Jobin, Global Head of Reputation and Accountability. company at Biogen. “The scientific community has spoken with unanimity and alarm that not all climate-related actions offer equal health benefits. We are proud of our collaboration with MIT’s joint program to develop this tool that can be used to bridge the gaps between research and policy, support policy decisions to promote health among vulnerable communities, and train the next generation of scientists and leaders to -to achieve impact “.

The tool can inform decision makers on a wide range of climate and air quality policies. Policy scenarios can be applied to specific regions, sectors or fuels to study policy mixes at a more detailed level or to target short-term action with high impact benefits.

TAPS could be further developed to take into account additional sources and trends of emissions.

“Our new tool could be used to examine a wide range of scenarios on both climate and air quality. As the picture broadens, we can add details for specific regions, as well as additional pollutants such as air toxins, ”says study supervising co-author Noelle Selin, professor at IDSS and the Department of Earth Sciences, of atmosphere and planets of MIT, and director of TPP.

This research was supported by the US Environmental Protection Agency and its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program; Biogen; TPP’s leading technology and political initiative; and TPP’s Research to Policy Engagement Initiative.

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