U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government


Main content area

Effect of Health-Related Uncertainty and Natural Variability on Health Impacts and Cobenefits of Climate Policy

Saari, Rebecca K., Mei, Yufei, Monier, Erwan, Garcia-Menendez, Fernando
Environmental science & technology 2019 v.53 no.3 pp. 1098-1108
air pollution, air quality, climate, climate change, death, environmental policy, human health, models, myocardial infarction, ozone, particulates, risk, uncertainty, United States
Climate policy can mitigate health risks attributed to intensifying air pollution under climate change. However, few studies quantify risks of illness and death, examine their contribution to climate policy benefits, or assess their robustness in light of natural climate variability. We employ an integrated modeling framework of the economy, climate, air quality, and human health to quantify the effect of natural variability on U.S. air pollution impacts under future climate and two global policies (2 and 2.5 °C stabilization scenarios) using 150 year ensemble simulations for each scenario in 2050 and 2100. Climate change yields annual premature deaths related to fine particulate matter and ozone (95CI: 25 000–120 000), heart attacks (900–9400), and lost work days (3.6M-4.9M) in 2100. It raises air pollution health risks by 20%, while policies avert these outcomes by 40–50% in 2050 and 70–88% in 2100. Natural variability introduces “climate noise”, yielding some annual estimates with negative cobenefits, and others that reach 100% of annual policy costs. This “noise” is three times the magnitude of uncertainty (95CI) in health and economic responses in 2050. Averaging five annual simulations reduces this factor to two, which is still substantially larger than health-related uncertainty. This study quantifies the potential for inaccuracy in climate impacts projected using too few annual simulations.