New research shows that improved air quality caused by reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels and other sources could improve human health and prevent economic losses.
That's according to projections by scientists at NASA, Duke University and Columbia University. When burned, fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming. The World Health Organization projects that heat exposure caused by increased temperatures will be the largest health impact of climate change. Simultaneously, burning fossil fuels emit air pollutants, such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides linked to premature death and respiratory illnesses, including asthma. One of these pollutants, nitrogen dioxide, in turn produces ozone pollution harmful for human health.
“Emission reductions help us in the long term to avoid disastrous climate change,” said Duke University climate scientist Drew Shindell, who led the research. “But the benefits that we can quantify for health, agriculture, wellbeing, medical expenses, labor and the economy are overwhelmingly driven by clean air in the near term.”
Globally, the research shows reducing emissions over the next 50 years to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement to keep global warming under 2°C through the end of the century could prevent about 4.5 million premature deaths, 1.4 million hospitalizations and emergency room visits, 300 million lost workdays, 1.7 million incidences of dementia, and 440 million tons of crop losses nationwide. Roughly two-thirds of those benefits would be realized even if only the United States reduced emissions.
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