News Brief

Cleaner Lungs Could Pay for Billion-Dollar Emissions Policies

Healthcare savings from better air quality would pay for proposed U.S. carbon emissions policies up to ten times over, a study finds.

Comparing Costs and Benefits of Emissions Policies

Researchers found a cap-and-trade program would offer the most human health benefits and cost the least to implement.

Source: Nature Climate Change
Global warming policies that target carbon emissions would simultaneously reduce air pollutants that cause ailments like asthma, heart disease, and lung cancer and in turn reduce healthcare spending—a co-benefit that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says could more than pay for the policies.

An MIT study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, reviewed three types of policies that would achieve the same emissions reductions nationally: a transportation policy, a cap-and-trade program, and a clean-energy standard similar to the Clean Power Plan proposed by President Obama in June 2014. Researchers found avoided health costs would recoup only a quarter of the massive $1 trillion transportation policy but would completely cover the costs of the other two policies with room to spare. The cap-and-trade program would cost a tenth of the money it would save, and the clean-energy standard would save a net $39 billion.

The study is described as “the most detailed assessment to date” in a press release because researchers modeled how changes in emissions through the various policies would translate into improvements in air quality—whether ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter would be reduced in cities (where more people would experience the health benefits of cleaner air) or in less-populated areas.

However, the researchers note that carbon reductions beyond those resulting in improved air quality will eventually be needed to curb climate change, so “while air-pollution benefits can help motivate carbon policies today,” addressing climate change long-term might cost more than avoided healthcare costs would recoup, according Noelle Selin, a co-author of the study.

Published September 17, 2014

Pearson, C. (2014, September 17). Cleaner Lungs Could Pay for Billion-Dollar Emissions Policies. Retrieved from

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