New research shows that China could save hundreds of thousands of lives in the long run if it takes strong measures to reduce its ozone pollution now. This is because climate change makes ozone pollution worse.
The ozone layer protects Earth from ultraviolet radiation, but when it gets into the air we breathe, it can lead to premature death from cardiovascular disease, stroke and respiratory problems. According to the Earth Institute at Columbia University, on-the-ground ozone pollution is created when other pollutants from cars, power plants, factories and other human-made sources react together with sunlight.
Ozone pollution is already responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths in China each year. And according to a new study, the situation could become worse in the future due to rising emissions and climate change.
The researchers, based in both China and the US, modeled how three different emissions scenarios for China would impact human health. The first scenario looked at what would happen if China’s air pollution levels stay fixed but the climate continues to warm. The second scenario looked at the effects of climate change plus a 10 per cent increase in ozone pollution emissions – representing a ‘status quo’ strategy, according to lead author Daniel Westervelt. And the third scenario analyzed the impacts of climate change plus an aggressive approach of cutting China’s ozone-forming emissions by 60 per cent.
In the first and second scenarios, the researchers found that premature deaths would increase by 62,000 and 80,000 respectively by 2050. In contrast, a 60 per cent decrease in ozone-forming emissions prevented 330,000 premature deaths.
As the authors write, cutting ozone-causing emissions by 60 per cent wouldn’t come easy and would require many new policies to fall into places, such as increasing fuel efficiency standards, switching to electric vehicles, installing air pollution control devices on power plant smokestacks, and switching to cleaner sources of energy, such as natural gas and renewables. “Nevertheless, the 60 per cent reduction is feasible based on policy measures and technologies that already exist today,” said Westervelt.
“I would hope that policymakers in China will take results like this and see that if you were to aggressively reduce emissions, you would reap the benefits in a pretty significant way,” he added. “It’s worth it to address these emissions now, so that you don’t have to deal with all the health problems in the future. You could save 330,000 over the next few decades. That’s a lot of lives.”
Image credit: Lei Han via Flickr