Climate change policies beneficial for European air quality

06-06-2006 | Publication

European climate change action will benefit air pollution abatement by 2030, with costs for controlling emissions dropping by EUR 10 billion per year. Reduced emissions will lead to a fall in damage to public health (e.g. 20 000 fewer premature deaths per year) and to ecosystems.

Climate change policies beneficial for European air quality

Air quality and ancillary benefits of climate change policies, an MNP co-ordinated report produced for the European Environmental Agency, concludes that action to combat climate change will deliver considerable ancillary benefits in air pollution abatement by 2030, namely:

  • overall lowered costs of controlling air pollutant emissions in the order of EUR 10 billion per year;
  • reduced air pollutant emissions, leading to a fall in damage to public health (e.g. more than 20 000 fewer premature deaths per year) and to ecosystems.

Ancillary benefits will be greater in 2030 than in 2020. However, climate change policies will reduce the overall cost of the air pollution abatement measures needed to meet the objectives of the Thematic Strategy on air pollution by 2020. Action to reduce air pollution, including pollution from shipping, will be required to move closer to the EU long-term objectives for air quality.

Existing policies will further improve air quality up to 2030

The Thematic Strategy on air pollution aims to improve European air pollution significantly by 2020. This report looks a further ten years ahead, bringing together two major policy challenges – combating climate change and reducing air pollution – in an integrated fashion. Here, projected changes in European air quality up to 2030 are analysed and the possible benefits of climate policies to air quality and to costs of air pollution abatement explored.

Existing air pollution abatement policies (i.e. those without new action taken within the framework of the thematic strategy) should lead to cleaner air in 2030 compared to 2000. However, the EU's objective of attaining levels of air quality that do not give rise to significant negative impacts on human health and the environment are unlikely to be met. With existing measures only, the number of premature deaths due to pollution with ground-level ozone and fine particles (PM2.5) by 2030 is projected at 311 000 per year.

Climate change policies will reduce air pollutant emissions

The EU has stated that the long-term climate objective should limit the global mean temperature increase to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The EU's contribution to meeting this target will mean climate policies that substantially reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. This, in turn, will lead to a decrease in air pollutant emissions and their associated health effects, while at the same time reducing the costs of implementing existing air pollution abatement policies. In this scenario, known as the climate action scenario, the number of premature deaths from pollution by ozone and fine particles is projected to fall from 311 000 to 288 000 by 2003. The costs of implementing existing air pollution measures are also projected to drop by EUR 10 billion per year. The avoided health costs can be estimated at between EUR 16–46 billion per year.

Cost reductions will rise to 35% for NOx by 2030…

Reductions by 2030, when compared to baseline, are most notable for oxides of nitrogen (10%), sulphur dioxide (17%), and particles (8–10%). Cost savings related to the implementation of existing air pollution abatement measures are highest in the EU-15. Respective relative abatement cost savings are estimated at more than 35% for oxides of nitrogen and 25% for sulphur dioxide and particles by 2030.

Therefore, climate change policies can make a substantial contribution to reducing air pollution. The ancillary benefits of climate policies for air pollution by 2030 are expected to be greater than in 2020, since the time available for implementing measures and for changes to occur in the energy system will be longer.

...but reaching EU long-term objectives will require further reductions

However, greater efforts will, clearly, still be necessary in the form of further targeted air pollution abatement measures in order to move closer to the EU long-term objectives. Even if the maximally feasible land based reduction measures in sectors relevant to abatement of air pollution were combined with climate policies — the maximum feasible reduction scenario — there will still be 200 000 annual premature deaths by 2030 caused by ozone and fine particles. Reduction in emissions from non-land-based sources, especially shipping, is also necessary if health impacts are to be further reduced.