New research shows how city actions to address climate change in India can yield health benefits from cleaner air.
As air pollution levels rise once again across India this winter, the health toll of the problem is coming into even sharper focus. Indian researchers estimate that air pollution from fine outdoor particles (mainly a by-product of burning fossil fuels) is linked to about 980,000 early deaths every year. Unfortunately, this problem seems to be getting worse, not better. Science shows that premature mortality from air pollution in India’s twelve current “megacities” (populations over 10 million, including the cities of Mumbai, Pune, Calcutta and Ahmedabad) increase significantly between 2005 and 2018. This change stems in part from emissions of sulfur dioxide, a major contributor to the formation of health-damaging fine particles (known as PM2.5) in the atmosphere. Sulfur dioxide emissions from industry and coal-fired power plants increase by 50 percent between 2007 and 2016.
Now, a new one applied research study published by a team of Indian and international experts shows that local action to address the long-term threat of climate change could also bring major air quality and public health benefits within the next decade.
New study highlights the health benefits of local climate action
until large-scale evidence While the global health harms of extreme heat, air pollution and other climate-related threats have steadily accumulated, there is less evidence of the local burden of these risks and the health benefits of reducing them. To address this gap, NRDC has worked for the past three years with Indian experts in climate, air quality, energy, and public health on an applied research project examining the city-level health benefits of climate action. The findings of that work are now available in a peer review scientific manuscript in the diary Environmental Research: Health and a summary data sheet available in English and Hindi:
Achieving improvement in air quality in Ahmedabad
our explorative focuses on the effects of air quality on public health in Ahmedabad, a city of 8.5 million in the western Indian state of Gujarat. The city has been the focus of innovative efforts to improve climate resilience, including South Asia’s first Action plan for heatinglaunched in 2013. Recently, because Ahmedabad’s air quality exceeds national health-based standards, it became one of the 132 non-attainment cities across the country taking action to improve air quality through National Clean Air Program.
Air quality often reaches unsafe levels in Ahmedabad, and the problem may worsen in the future due to the increasing demand for electricity in the growing need for air conditioning (A/C), which is currently estimated to reach only about 6 % of Indian households. While A/C saves lives and India’s Cooling Action Plan projects an eightfold increase in A/C demand over the next 20 years, it may inadvertently worsen air pollution problems if fossil fuels are burned to meet growing energy needs.
But local efforts can address the root causes and impacts of climate change through mitigation and adaptation actions. Mitigation reduces heat emissions at their source and limits climate change; Adaptation limits damage from climate impacts already underway. These actions can lead to significant reductions in energy use, energy-related air pollution emissions, and air quality-related health problems. The state of Gujarat is a national leader in installing renewable energy capacity, in accordance with India’s goal to expand renewable sources to meet half of its energy needs by 2030. Moreover, low-cost cool roof installations are shown to him lower temperatures inside buildings, lowering household energy bills and reducing the load on the electricity grid.
Our applied multi-sector project aimed to assess the air quality and health benefits of climate change mitigation and adaptation in Ahmedabad by 2030. Collaborators from NRDC, Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar, Institute of Energy Research and Management in Gujarat, and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology applied local data to assess, for the first time, how climate action can improve air quality and health in the short term.
Cleaner air, improved health
The findings we arrived at through this integrated modeling effort are striking. First, we estimate that between 2018 and 2030, the city’s population is poised to expand by around 850,000. Meanwhile, climate warming is expected to increase the average annual temperature in Ahmedabad by about 0.8 °C. This additional heat is expected to contribute to a nearly three-fold increase in cooling demand in buildings.
Overall, if the city continues to rely heavily on an aging coal-fired power plant and other fossil fuel sources to meet its energy needs, Ahmedabad’s air quality could deteriorate significantly by 2030, the prime minister said.2.5 concentrations increase around 4 µg/m3. But if the city takes strong clean energy and cool roof actions, it can avoid that PM increase2.5 air pollution and are actually recorded lower ones air pollution levels in 2030 than in 2018, even as the population grows and the economy expands. Comparing a fossil fuel-heavy future as usual with a smart 2030 climate vision, we estimate that air quality improvements with mitigation and adaptation would result in up to 1,400 fewer annual deaths in Ahmedabad.
Our study shows that India’s move away from fossil fuels, moving even further and faster towards clean energy, and stronger heat adaptation through cool roofs can help reduce deadly air pollution, keep people cooler and healthier and reduce climate-inducing carbon dioxide pollution. change. By including climate, energy, cooling, land cover, air pollution and local health data, the comprehensive modeling method we used is scalable to estimate local air quality and shared health benefits in different situations. Our findings show that climate change response measures at the city level can produce significant co-benefits for air quality and health in the short term.
Scaling up climate solutions that protect health
Overall, this work provides a blueprint for future studies to assess local air quality and shared health benefits of responses to climate change in India. Such research can help the public understand how climate action in India can deliver cleaner air. It can also strengthen understanding of the health implications of policies in India that affect energy use and air quality, such as India’s Cooling Action Plan, India’s climate change goals under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and further implementation of the National Clean Air Act. program. These findings on preventable premature deaths from air quality improvements strengthen the health case for increasing local climate solutions across the country.
This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust [Grant #216093/Z/19/Z].