Research Press Release

Climate change: Strategic power plant retirement could enhance climate mitigation health benefits

Nature Climate Change

November 30, 2021

Strategically retiring super-polluting power plants could cumulatively save an additional six million lives worldwide between 2010 and 2050, assuming that climate-energy mitigation policies are implemented that successfully avoid global warming of 1.5 oC. These findings, published in Nature Climate Change, suggest that the health benefits of mitigating climate change may depend on supplementary programs, such as deploying pollution control technologies and retiring super-polluting units.

The climate and public health benefits of reducing CO2 emissions from fossil fuel- and biomass-fired power plants are well known, and these result from reductions in air pollution. However, less is known about how differences in the way that individual power plants are managed could impact public health.

Qiang Zhang and colleagues modelled differences in CO2 emissions and air pollution-related deaths worldwide at the level of individual power plants across a range of climate-energy mitigation policy scenarios. Between 2010 and 2018, approximately 92% of the premature deaths related to power-plant emissions are estimated to have occurred in low-income or emerging economies such as China, India and countries in Southeast Asia, with such deaths likely to be influenced by future climate-energy trajectories. Considering the most ambitious model as an example, which assumes the success of climate-energy policies in avoiding global warming of 1.5 oC, the authors found that the strategic retirement of the most polluting and harmful power plants could cumulatively avoid 18% (43 billion tonnes) of future CO2 emissions and 100% (six million) of the predicted deaths between 2010 and 2050 as compared to implementing climate-energy policies alone.

The authors conclude that their findings underscore how climate mitigation does not necessarily guarantee improvements in air quality and reductions in air pollution-related deaths. Instead, they state that pollution controls and strategic power plant retirement may determine the extent to which the health benefits of mitigation policies are realized.


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