Research Press Release

Climate change: Aerosol-induced cooling offsets increasing economic inequality

Nature Climate Change

February 18, 2020

Human aerosol emissions may have partially offset global economic inequality, suggests a paper published in Nature Climate Change . Despite the negative consequences of aerosols on human and ecosystem health, these findings provide insight into how aerosol emissions have impacted country-level economic productivity.

Aerosols, primarily sulfate, interact with clouds and sunlight in complex ways and have offset about one third of the extra heat from anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Recent research has shown that climate warming harms economies in warm regions but provides economic benefits in cooler regions. However, how aerosol-induced cooling has impacted different economies has not been quantified.

Yixuan Zheng and colleagues use a climate model to simulate two worlds from 1850 - 2019: one with aerosols held at levels prior to industrialization and another with historically increasing emissions. The difference between these two worlds approximates the global cooling impacts of aerosols. The authors then quantified the economic impact of this cooling using metrics that relate country-level temperatures to gross domestic product. The authors estimate that in a nominal 2010 world, the aerosol-induced cooling led to economic damages in cooler countries and benefits in warmer countries. At the global scale, these country-level impacts cancel each other out.

Since many developed countries are in cooler regions and developing economies are in warmer regions, these results suggest that global aerosol emissions may have partially offset economic inequality caused by climate warming. However, the authors conclude these economic benefits are likely to be outweighed by the harmful health impacts of aerosols


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