Improved air quality in China could save lives in the US

China’s climate targets could prevent thousands of people from dying due to air pollution in the United States, a new study says.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study concluded that if China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, honours its pledge to peak its carbon dioxide emissions in 2030, it would have positive impacts on air quality in downwind neighbours like the US.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that the corresponding reduction in air pollution would result in almost 2,000 fewer premature deaths in the US.

‘The results show that climate policy in China can influence air quality even as far away as the U.S.,’ says Noelle Eckley Selin, an associate professor in MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society and Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), who co-led the study.

‘This shows that policy action on climate is indeed in everyone’s interest, in the near term as well as in the longer term.’

Rush hour in Beijing, China.

The scientists estimated how China’s climate policies would benefit both air quality and health by reducing concentrations of ozone in the Earth’s atmosphere, as well as lowering levels of ozone and particulate matter (PM2.5) in three countries which lie downwind from China: South Korea, Japan and the US.

Assuming China sticks to its 2030 pledge, they found that atmospheric ozone levels in China would fall by 1.6 parts per billion by the same year, compared to if it does not enact the policy.

In total, China would avoid 54,300 premature deaths, almost 60% of which would have resulted from PM2.5, the researchers said.

Japan and South Korea respectively would be spared 3,500 and 1,200 premature deaths, mostly due to reduced PM2.5.

The United States, meanwhile, would avoid 1,900 deaths, to which ozone would have been the main contributor due to its spending longer in the atmosphere.

Even more premature deaths would be avoided in the three downwind countries as well as in China if China were to introduce an even stricter climate policy, the scientists found.

The results of the study demonstrate the cross-continental impact of air pollution, and show how China’s efforts to curb its emissions would benefit its neighbours as well as itself.

Another recent study published in Environmental Research Letters found that China could save 330,000 lives if it cuts its levels of ozone air pollution.

The combined findings of these studies could motivate other countries to help China meet its emissions targets.

Photo Credit – Public domain