The air quality health and economic costs and benefits of a zero carbon UK
Air pollution, the largest single environmental risk factor in the UK, is associated with the premature deaths of 28,000 – 36,000 people each year and affects the poorest in society the most. Estimates of the costs of air pollution impacts to human health in the UK are in the region of £20 billion per year. Air pollution continues to exceed Government standards designed to protect our health and reducing air pollution requires wide-ranging interventions across the UK. Recently, the UK has signed the Paris Climate Agreement and is actively seeking to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050. Achieving this goal requires rapid and urgent actions in the coming decades.
Reducing carbon emissions has the potential to reduce air pollution levels with associated health and economic benefits to the UK population. These benefits, balanced against the costs, might provide the justification needed to increase the acceptance amongst policy makers and the public to achieve both climate change and air pollution targets.
This project will study the air quality, health and economic benefits of a range of future climate policy scenarios in 2030, 2040 and 2050, derived and costed for UK Government by our project collaborator, the Climate Change Committee (CCC). These scenarios have been shaped by PPI in the form of the UK Government consultation on the Clean Air Strategy. Reflecting these responses, we aim to test policies, and research questions, that have strong support from the public and are likely impact on air pollution, including: the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, the widespread use of new domestic heating systems, more walking and cycling, low-carbon shipping, and a switch away from gas cooking to improve indoor air quality.
The research team is experienced and highly skilled in all aspects of the research having previously developed many of the modelling systems needed, including during a NIHR funded project. We will use UK Government energy models, sophisticated air pollution models, future emissions based on UK and European emissions inventories and health and economic costs and benefits, predicted using UK and Internationally approved methods.
We will estimate the health and economic benefits of reducing air pollution for 12 policy scenarios aiming to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050. To do so, we will look at an extended list of health outcomes ranging from reduced birth weight, asthma and lung development in children, heart disease in adults, work days lost and life expectancy. Some policies may in addition have significant social impacts and we will explore how policies will affect different parts of the population, for instance inner cities compared to rural locations, affluent versus deprived neighbourhoods and across different ethnic groups.
Together with citizen’s and BRC panels we will explore the social implications of the scenarios and their acceptance by the public. We will have ongoing dialog with patients and young people who will inform and shape our study design and dissemination strategy. Dedicated workshops with 15-25 years olds will co-develop an art installation with Science Gallery London (SGL) to foster dialog on the future health impacts on air pollution and climate change amongst young people. We will engage with government departments, public health professionals, other groups and the public, throughout the project, to ensure that our project results are relevant and understandable to all stakeholders.
PI: Dr Sean Beevers