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Climate policies can help resolve energy security and air pollution challenges


This paper assesses three key energy sustainability objectives: energy security improvement, climate change mitigation, and the reduction of air pollution and its human health impacts. We explain how the common practice of narrowly focusing on singular issues ignores potentially enormous synergies, highlighting the need for a paradigm shift toward more holistic policy approaches. Our analysis of a large ensemble of alternate energy-climate futures, developed using MESSAGE, an integrated assessment model, shows that stringent climate change policy offers a strategic entry point along the path to energy sustainability in several dimensions. Concerted decarbonization efforts can lead to improved air quality, thereby reducing energy-related health impacts worldwide: upwards of 2–32 million fewer disability-adjusted life years in 2030, depending on the aggressiveness of the air pollution policies foreseen in the baseline. At the same time, low-carbon technologies and energy-efficiency improvements can help to further the energy security goals of individual countries and regions by promoting a more dependable, resilient, and diversified energy portfolio. The cost savings of these climate policy synergies are potentially enormous: $100–600 billion annually by 2030 in reduced pollution control and energy security expenditures (0.1–0.7 % of GDP). Novel aspects of this paper include an explicit quantification of the health-related co-benefits of present and future air pollution control policies; an analysis of how future constraints on regional trade could influence energy security; a detailed assessment of energy expenditures showing where financing needs to flow in order to achieve the multiple energy sustainability objectives; and a quantification of the relationships between different fulfillment levels for energy security and air pollution goals and the probability of reaching the 2 °C climate target.

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  1. Note that in addition to PM2.5, each scenario of the large ensemble possesses unique emissions trajectories for sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC), carbon monoxide (CO), black carbon (BC), organic carbon (OC), and ammonia (NH3).

  2. m j is constrained to be between 0 and 1 to ignore the contribution of resources that are net exported (i.e., with negative m j ’s); otherwise, the diversity indicator of exporting regions would be artificially improved.

  3. The term climate sensitivity (CS) refers to the equilibrium global average warming expected if CO2 concentrations were to be sustained at double their pre-industrial values. A CS of 3 °C has a (cumulative) likelihood of 53.9 % using the uniform prior climate sensitivity probability density function from Forest et al. (2002), which is in the middle of the range found in the literature. See SM.


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This paper describes work partially undertaken within the framework of the Global Energy Assessment. Financial support was provided by the Global Environment Facility, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth, and US National Academy of Sciences.

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Correspondence to David L. McCollum.

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McCollum, D.L., Krey, V., Riahi, K. et al. Climate policies can help resolve energy security and air pollution challenges. Climatic Change 119, 479–494 (2013).

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