Study: China's push to slash carbon emissions will pay for itself

A state-run coal-fired plant in Huainan, China. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The health and air-quality benefits of Chinese efforts to slash carbon emissions will largely or even fully offset the costs of the climate initiatives, a new paper in Nature Climate Change by MIT scholars shows.

Why it matters: China, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, has pledged to have its carbon emissions peak by 2030 and ideally sooner.

The big picture: Steps that lower carbon, like moving away from coal, typically reduce traditional pollutants that directly damage health too, like fine particulates and sulfur dioxide.

What they found: The paper models the effect of using carbon pricing to achieve CO2 intensity cuts of 3%, 4%, and 5% annually through 2030 (with the 4% figure as a proxy for meeting China's Paris pledge).

  • Policy that provides those intensity cuts will lead to avoided premature deaths of 36,000, 94,000, and 160,000 respectively in 2030, and "avoided mortality translates into net health co-benefits that rise faster than policy costs."
  • The net health benefits of the middle 4% annual scenario would be about $340 billion in 2030, which a summary of the research notes would be about four times the cost of implementing the emissions curbs.

Quick take: Politically, the research confirms why Chinese officials have their own internal reasons to cut CO2 even though the U.S. is abandoning Paris and disengaging internationally on climate.

  • As multiple policy analysts have noted, steps that improve China's terrible air quality are important to the Chinese regime because pollution has become a source of domestic unrest and costs.