"The results … highlight the significance of air-quality benefits from climate mitigation in an overall pollution management approach," Shilpa Rao of Austria’s International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) told environmentalresearchweb. "Climate mitigation policies … complement current approaches to air-pollution control and could result in improved air quality through reductions across many sectors."

Rao and colleagues found that a combination of stringent policies on air-pollution control and climate mitigation would see 40% of the global population exposed to particulate matter (PM) levels below the World Health Organization (WHO) air-quality guideline. They estimated the largest improvements for India, China and the Middle East.

"At the same time, there is a possibility that certain climate mitigation actions may actually worsen air pollution in the next two decades in parts of Asia and Africa through higher fossil-fuel prices and a subsequent increased use of biomass for cooking and other uses," said Rao.

Rao and colleagues wanted to understand what current regional and global climate mitigation commitments would mean for air quality in the next 20 years, and whether such co-benefits would be useful in aligning national and global interests. "This question is extremely relevant in terms of the sustainable development goals, which urge a commitment to both improved air quality and climate-change mitigation and stress the need to align policies," said Rao.

The UN’s 17 sustainable development goals, listed in a 2015 resolution, contain a total of 169 targets, including action on climate change and improving health.

To find out more about the air-quality benefits and tradeoffs from aligning policies on air pollution and climate mitigation, the researchers used a combination of multiple integrated assessment models and a simplified air-quality simulator, along with data on all current and planned policies on air pollution and a long-term climate target of 2°C temperature rise. "Integrated assessment models project economic growth, population, energy consumption, land-use and agriculture along with associated greenhouse-gas and pollutant emissions," writes the team in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

"Implementing an effective response to climate change and achieving stringent climate goals is a tremendous challenge that will require a fundamental transformation in energy and land-use management and would require unparalleled policy commitment at a global level," said Rao. "This will entail a commitment to mitigation from all major economies, which account for most of the emissions and host the largest mitigation capacity. In this context, research on understanding the role of policies in promoting mitigation and adaptation, and reconciling the diversity in regional and national interests is of specific importance in the LIMITS project."

Rao and colleagues, who undertook this co-benefits study as part of LIMITS, hope their findings will be useful in understanding the complexities of aligning long-term climate mitigation actions to reach a 2° C target with more near-term goals on air pollution and health. "We would like our results to contribute to research underlying the attainment of the sustainable development goals and the potential benefits and tradeoffs that policy integration will involve," said Rao.

Now the team plans to look more closely at the potential health implications of air pollution in the next few decades, and the link between climate mitigation policies and sustainable development goals. "We also intend to zoom in on regions and countries where the health burden is largest to understand how current policies could be better integrated to address the challenge," said Rao.

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