We're just beginning to understand the health benefits of climate action. While it's easy to imagine that floods, heat waves, and disruptions in our food supply from drought might be bad for our health; what if we take climate change impacts out of the picture?
Are there other reasons to invest public dollars in climate action strategies? A new report commissioned by the US Environmental Protection Agency says there are. On August 22nd, the EPA released a study on the impacts that local greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction measures have on air quality, showing that co-benefits of climate action plans can be measured and can be significant.
The EPA hired IFS International, who used GHG reduction measures being considered as part of an update to the City of San Francisco’s ambitious Climate Action Plan to frame their work. They were tasked with proving that co-benefits could be measured, and doing it in a way that provided decision-support to local climate change and air quality planners. Here's what they found:
- San Francisco's climate action plan would reduce 'criteria pollutant' emissions in the Bay Area. Criteria air pollutants - which include carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfer dioxide, and particulate matter - can injure health, harm the environment and cause property damage.
- San Francisco's climate action plan measures result in significant economic benefits from averted health costs beyond those previously accounted for. The city was already aware of some $57,000,000 in avoided costs from reducing GHGs specifically, but the study found that reductions in particulate matter from the same measures could yield an additional $57,000,000 in avoided health care costs. $42.56 in reduced health costs are saved for every ton of GHG emissions reduced.
- Not all of the measures in the plan are created equal. According to the study: “San Francisco's Renewable Energy Goal would achieve the highest total monetary benefit—almost $28 million more than the next‐highest measure. Achieve Zero Waste, Energy Efficiency Legislation Support, Community Travel Demand Management, and Land Use Measures would also have sizable benefits ($12 million–$15 million each). The lowest total benefits would result from Ridesharing, Residential Loan Program, Tree Planting, and Energy Efficiency Services (less than $300,000 each).”
While the study affirms that measures to reduce GHG emissions can have multiple economic, social, and environmental benefits for the San Francisco Bay Area, it also lays out a blueprint for local governments around the world to examine the potential co-benefits of their own GHG reduction efforts. For more information, check out the EPA's report “Evaluation of the Air Quality Co-benefits of Local Greenhouse Gas Reduction Measures: a Case Study of San Francisco” which made its public debut at a SPUR lecture in San Francisco August 22nd.