Normally we say, ‘think global, act local’. But when it comes to mitigating global greenhouse gas emissions while combatting local air pollution, it’s time to say ‘act global, think local’.
The link between climate change and pollution
Climate change and air pollution are two of the greatest environmental challenges of our time. The 2018 IPCC 1.5oC Special Report identifies strong links between climate change mitigation and adaptation with global efforts to achieve a range of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. In the case of combatting air pollution, clear links exist between mitigating climate change and achieving Sustainable Development Goals relating to climate action, sustainable cities and communities, good health and well-being, and zero hunger.
At higher concentrations, fine air pollution has significant economic impacts related to people being absent from work or school or being less productive. Pregnant women, children and the sick are especially vulnerable. It also severely damages the lungs, heart, brain, and other critical systems of the human body and provides another cause of premature death and ill health, thus impeding efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3 of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.
Air pollution has implications for other SDGs
Air pollutants can also harm crops and forests, reduce agricultural production and threaten food security, thus stymying efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 of ending hunger.
Some air pollutants such as black carbon and ozone in the lower atmosphere negatively impact the climate as well as damaging human health. Reducing these pollutants will help with Sustainable Development Goal 13 of taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Measures implemented to address greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) will also reduce impacts on human health by reducing the emissions that lead to fine particulate matter and ozone formation.
GCF and co-benefits
The GCF Board has proposed that mitigation interventions funded by the GCF report on at least one SDG co-benefit. We propose that GCF-funded interventions leverage the inherent linkages between climate change and air pollution. By assessing the impact of climate interventions on harmful air pollutants, GCF-funded interventions can quantify the multiple-impacts of these actions for human health.
Project designs that include social considerations, such as health impacts, are more efficient (which is also a GCF investment criteria). It’s a win-win, as those projects will achieve, necessary reductions to protect the global climate in the long-term, while also achieving significant near-term local or regional health benefits through improved air quality. For example, the 2018 Climate and Clean Air Coalition Assessment Air Pollution in the Asia-Pacific Science-Based Solutions, identified 25 pollution-reduction measures that would reduce CO2 emissions by 19 percent and methane emissions by 44 percent AND bring cleaner air to one billion people in Asia.
The importance of this result cannot be overstated.
By acting purely for their own domestic development by substantially contributing to global efforts to combat climate change, countries in the Asia Pacific can simultaneously improve local air quality and public health by contributing nearly a third of a degree towards avoided global warming by 2050.
An opportunity for GCF
The GCF can play a pivotal role in achieving multiple benefits in air quality and health by ensuring the mitigation project proposals it receives also address health co-benefits. For organizations developing mitigation proposals, the first step would be to account for reductions in all GHGs and air pollutant emissions as separate substances and quantities alongside approaches that develop one single figure like CO2e. This would enable them to estimate the effect emission changes have on concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) using an atmospheric model. It would also allow them to quantify the effect changes in emissions have on public health, using standard approaches used by the WHO and the Global Burden of Disease program.
Tools exist for measuring air-pollutant reductions. One such tool is the LEAP-IBC – a combination of Long-Range Energy Alternatives Planning with an Integrated Benefits Calculator. The emissions are calculated using LEAP and the IBC measures the reduction in pollutant emissions that give rise to PM2.5 concentrations. The resulting data can be used by project designers to estimate the impact of a mitigation project in reducing premature deaths within their own target area.
Several government agencies are already doing this. For example, the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that by implementing their nationally determined contributions to reducing emissions they will prevent about 1,500 premature deaths each year. Such evidence is very persuasive in helping other government agencies better understand how their climate actions are delivering local benefits.
Greater awareness and emphasis among accredited entities, national designated authorities, the community, policymakers, and local politicians on the importance of improving air quality will foster more ambition in GCF mitigation projects by promoting awareness that the proven benefits of reduced air pollution can help make mitigation projects more efficient and effective at both global and local levels.
Linking the reduction in the world’s emissions to reducing regional or city-based pollution is a case of acting globally and thinking locally. It is a win-win: a win for the planet and a win for the people.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this guest blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Independent Evaluation Unit of the Green Climate Fund.