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Ancillary health effects of climate mitigation scenarios as drivers of policy uptake: a review of air quality, transportation and diet co-benefits modeling studies

October 27, 2017
Environmental Research Letters

• Chang KM, Hess JJ, Balbus JM, Buonocore JJ, Cleveland DA, Grabow ML, Neff RA, Saari RK, Tessum CW, Wilkinson P, Woodward A, Ebi K

Background: Significant mitigation efforts beyond the Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) coming out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement are required to avoid warming of 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. Health co-benefits represent selected near term, positive consequences of climate policies that can offset mitigation costs in the short term before the beneficial impacts of those policies on the magnitude of climate change are evident. The diversity of approaches to modeling mitigation options and their health effects inhibits meta-analyses and syntheses of results useful in policy-making.

Methods/Design: We evaluated the range of methods and choices in modeling health co-benefits of climate mitigation to identify opportunities for increased consistency and collaboration that could better inform policy-making. We reviewed studies quantifying the health co-benefits of climate change mitigation related to air quality, transportation, and diet published since the 2009 Lancet Commission 'Managing the health effects of climate change' through January 2017. We documented approaches, methods, scenarios, health-related exposures, and health outcomes.

Results/Synthesis: Forty-two studies met the inclusion criteria. Air quality, transportation, and diet scenarios ranged from specific policy proposals to hypothetical scenarios, and from global recommendations to stakeholder-informed local guidance. Geographic and temporal scope as well as validity of scenarios determined policy relevance. More recent studies tended to use more sophisticated methods to address complexity in the relevant policy system.

Discussion: Most studies indicated significant, nearer term, local ancillary health benefits providing impetus for policy uptake and net cost savings. However, studies were more suited to describing the interaction of climate policy and health and the magnitude of potential outcomes than to providing specific accurate estimates of health co-benefits. Modeling the health co-benefits of climate policy provides policy-relevant information when the scenarios are reasonable, relevant, and thorough, and the model adequately addresses complexity. Greater consistency in selected modeling choices across the health co-benefits of climate mitigation research would facilitate evaluation of mitigation options particularly as they apply to the NDCs and promote policy uptake.