Thursday, July 7, 2016

Small increase in energy investment could cut premature deaths from air pollution in half by 2040, says new IEA report

IEA strategy based on existing energy technologies and policies can cut 50% of pollutant emissions, the fourth-largest threat to human health, by 2040

Each year an estimated 6.5 million deaths are linked to air pollution with the number set to increase significantly in coming decades unless the energy sector takes greater action to curb emissions. Air pollution is a problem felt around the world, particularly the poorest in society. No country is immune as a staggering 80% of the population living in cities that monitor pollution levels are breathing air that fails to meet the air quality standards set by the World Health Organization. Premature deaths from outdoor air pollution are projected to rise from 3 million today to 4.5 million by 2040, concentrated mainly in developing Asia. Meanwhile, premature deaths from household air pollution will decline from 3.5 million to 3 million over the same period, although they continue to be heavily linked to poverty and an inability to access modern energy.

In its first ever in-depth analysis of air quality, the IEA’s World Energy Outlook (WEO) special report released today highlights the links between energy, air pollution and health. It identifies contributions the energy sector can make to curb poor air quality, the fourth-largest threat to human health, after high blood pressure, poor diets, and smoking.

Energy production and use – mostly from unregulated, poorly regulated or inefficient fuel combustion – are the most important man-made sources of key air pollutant emissions: 85% of particulate matter and almost all of the sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides. Millions of tonnes of these pollutants are released into the atmosphere each year, from factories, power plants, cars, trucks, as well as the 2.7 billion people still relying on polluting stoves and fuels for cooking (mainly wood, charcoal and other biomass).

In the central outlook of the WEO special report, growing attention to this issue and an accelerating energy transition post-COP21 puts global emissions of these pollutants on a slowly declining trend to 2040. However, the problem is far from solved and global changes mask strong regional differences: emissions continue to fall in industrialised countries. In China, recent signs of decline are consolidated. But emissions generally rise in India, Southeast Asia and Africa, as expected growth in energy demand dwarfs policy efforts related to air quality.
The air quality outlook is not set in stone, but rather it is a policy choice. The report presents strategies tailored to various country circumstances to deliver cleaner air for all. A Clean Air Scenario demonstrates how energy policy choices backed by just a 7% increase in total energy investment through 2040 produce a sharp improvement in health. Under such a scenario, premature deaths from outdoor air pollution would decline by 1.7 million in 2040 compared with our main scenario, and those from household pollution would fall by 1.6 million annually.

The IEA strategy for cleaner air requires the implementation of a number of proven policies. Actions to deliver access to clean cooking facilities to an additional 1.8 billion people by 2040 are essential to reducing household emissions in developing countries, while emissions controls and fuel switching are crucial in the power sector, as is increasing energy efficiency in industry and emissions standards that are strictly enforced for road transport. Overall, the extra impetus to the energy transition means that global energy demand is 13% lower in 2040 than otherwise expected and, of the energy that is combusted, three-quarters is subject to advanced pollution controls, compared with only around 45% today.

“We need to revise our approach to energy development so that communities are not forced to sacrifice clean air in return for economic growth," said Dr Birol. "Implementing the IEA strategy in the Clean Air Scenario can push energy-related pollution levels into a steep decline in all countries. It can also deliver universal access to modern energy, a rapid peak and decline in global greenhouse-gas emissions and lower fossil-fuel import bills in many countries.”

Aligned with its energy policy strategy for cleaner air, the WEO special report highlights three key areas for government action:
  1. Setting an ambitious long-term air quality goal, to which all stakeholders can subscribe and against which the efficacy of the various pollution mitigation options can be assessed.
  2. Putting in place a package of clean air policies for the energy sector to achieve the long-term goal, drawing on a cost-effective mix of direct emissions controls, regulation and other measures, giving due weight to the co-benefits for other energy policy objectives.
  3. Ensuring effective monitoring, enforcement, evaluation and communication: keeping a strategy on course requires reliable data, a continuous focus on compliance and on policy improvement, and timely and transparent public information....
Investment in the Clean Air Scenario includes an extra $2.3 trillion in advanced pollution control technologies (two-thirds of this to comply with higher vehicle emissions standards) and $2.5 trillion in a more rapid transformation of the energy sector. The resultant benefits are many times more valuable. In 2040, global emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are more than 50% lower, while emissions of particulate matter fall by almost three-quarters. These reductions are largest in developing countries. As a result, the share of India’s population exposed to air with a high concentration of fine particles (higher than the least stringent of the World Health Organisation’s interim targets) falls to less than 20% in 2040 from more than 60% today; in China, this figure shrinks below one-quarter (from well over half), and in Indonesia and South Africa it falls almost to zero.
There have been several national studies into the economic impacts of air pollution.  While often not comparable to one another, they confirm the high cost of air pollution across different countries and sectors, and the high benefits of policy action. In the European Union, the value of the health impacts was estimated at $440-1 250 billion in 2010 (EC, 2013). The cost of damage from air pollution, just from the largest industrial facilities, is estimated to have been $55-155 billion in 2012, with half of the total from just 1% of industrial plants (EEA, 2014). In the United States, where the cost of compliance with the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments are expected to rise to around $65 billion per year by 2020, the economic value of the resulting improvements in health and environmental conditions are estimated at around $2 trillion in the same year (US EPA, 2011). Other studies value the adverse health impact in the United States from fossil-fuel supply and power generation activities alone at over $160 billion in 2011 (Jaramillo and Muller, 2016).
Across the OECD as a whole, the road transport sector has been estimated to account for around half of the total health-related economic cost of outdoor air pollution – road transport costing around $865 billion in 2010 (OECD, 2014a). In emerging economies, power generation and industry (with the prominence of coal) and buildings (with important reliance on coal and solid biomass) are the sectors which make the most significant contribution to the health impacts and thus to the economic cost of air pollution. In China, estimates of the economic cost have increased over time (as average incomes have grown rapidly): they were assessed to be between around $85-280 billion in 2003 (World Bank, 2007). In India, an estimate of the cost of air pollution was around $160 billion in 2009 (World Bank, 2013). Studies for a range of other countries confirm the significant economic costs associated with air pollution: Nigeria about $80 billion in 2006 (Yaduma, Kortelainen and Wossink, 2013), Pakistan around $6 billion in 2005 (SànchezTriana, et al., 2014).
Personal passenger transport is provided primarily by LDVs and two- and three-wheelers (motorcycles). For LDVs, the control technologies needed to comply with the most stringent standards for low-sulfur fuel and tailpipe emissions are widely available (ICCT, 2015a). The cost of control technologies depends on whether the vehicle is fuelled by gasoline or diesel and on the stringency of the relevant emission standard. NOX and PM2.5 control technologies for LDVs using gasoline engines are based on air-fuel control and catalytic treatment, including three-way catalysts. With the advent of gasoline direct injection and other advanced combustion technologies for spark-ignition engines, new after-treatment technologies are being developed to address PM emissions. A 2012 study estimated the costs of complying with Euro 6 in the range of $361-416 for a four-cylinder petrol engine (ICCT, 2012). In diesel vehicles, selective catalytic reduction (SCR), a lean NOX trap (LNT) and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) are the principal technology options, and either SCR or (less often) LNT are typically used in conjunction with EGR to reduce NOX emissions. The costs of SCR range $418-494, the costs of LNT range $320-509 and EGR costs range $142-160, depending on engine size (ICCT, 2015b).
For HDVs, emissions control technologies are the same as those for diesel cars, but given the differences in vehicle weight, operations, use cycles and on-road lifetime, as well as in emission standards, the costs and configurations of the technologies differ substantially. To comply with the leading global standards, diesel trucks generally need both SCR and DPF, as well as in-cylinder emission controls (including fuel and air injection systems and EGR).

Current HDV standards in the United States (US 2010) and Europe (Euro VI) reduce NOX and PM 2.5 emissions of compliant vehicles by around 95% from the basic standards (US NOX 1994 and Euro II) that relied upon 500 ppm sulfur diesel, developed in the early 1990s (ICCT, 2016). The costs of developing and integrating the emissions control technologies needed to comply with tighter emissions standards range from $426 for compliance with Euro III and $50 for compliance with US 1998, to nearly $7 000 to comply with current standards (Euro VI and US 2010), but this equates to less than 5% of the purchase price of a truck on the US market (ICCT, 2016).
One EU assessment finds that the benefits of new policies could reduce negative health impacts by more than half and bring overall economic benefits that outweigh the costs by more than twenty-to-one (EC, 2016). An evaluation of the 1990 amendments to the US Clean Air Act finds that, by 2020 alone, they are expected to prevent more than 230 000 premature deaths, 17 million days off work due to illness and over five million days of absences from school – its central estimate puts the value of the overall benefits as more than thirty-times higher than the costs (US EPA, 2011). China’s latest action plan is also expected to yield economic benefits that exceed the estimated $277 billion investment cost (China Daily, 2013)
The investment required to achieve universal access to electricity is around $1.1 trillion over the period to 2040 $45 billion per year on average 50% more than the investment expected in the New Policies Scenario. The investment needed to achieve universal access to clean cooking facilities is considerably more modest: the cost of the improved cookstoves, LPG stoves, gasifiers etc. is only around 5% of the amount required for full access to electricity, although many other challenges remain in practice to achieve the switch to cleaner cooking alternatives (Spotlight). 
The United States is expected to see an improvement in its overall fossil-fuel import bill even in the New Policies Scenario, as it becomes a net exporter of natural gas and its oil import requirement declines; but it sees a much sharper improvement in the Clean Air Scenario (the import bill going from over $200 billion in 2014 to under $100 billion in 2040) (Figure 3.10). The European Union sees its fossil-fuel import bill switch from an increasing trend in the New Policies Scenario to a decreasing one in the Clean Air Scenario. As the requirement for imported oil, gas and coal is reduced, the import bill ends $120 billion lower than would otherwise be expected in 2040. Large reductions in fossil-fuel import requirements also bring large gains to China ($170 billion lower in 2040 relative to the New Policies Scenario) and India ($135 billion lower)
The US EPA has made an assessment of the costs and benefits of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990: costs were around $380 billion, while the cumulative net benefits were valued at $12 trillion, over the period 1990-2020 (in 2006 dollars) (US EPA, 2011). These net benefits are derived mainly from the prevention of premature deaths as a result of improvements in ambient PM; by 2020, the 230 000 avoided PM related deaths in that year account for about 85% of monetised annual net benefits of $2 trillion.
Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is grappling with significant levels of air pollution: in 2013, the annual average concentration of SO2 monitored across the metropolitan area reached 68 µg/m3, and NO2 38 µg/m3 (BPLHD, 2013). Annual PM10 concentrations have consistently been above the WHO guidelines since 2005, reaching 73 µg/m3 (24-hour mean) in 2012 (Firdaus R., 2013). The impact is severe: an analysis by the Indonesian Ministry of Environment estimated the annual costs of health impacts in Jakarta in 2010 at $535 million (Safrudin A., et al., 2013).
The World Energy Outlook Special Report on Energy and Air Pollution is available for free download at the IEA bookshop.

To view the presentation given by the IEA Executive Director at the launch, please click here‌.

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