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China could avoid nearly 94,000 premature deaths and save $339 billion in health costs over the next 12 years by keeping its pledge to cut carbon emissions under the Paris climate accord, a study showed on Monday.
The study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published in Nature Climate Change, estimated the health savings could be about four times what it would cost China to meet its climate goals.
"The country could actually come out net positive, just based on the health co-benefits associated with air quality improvements, relative to the cost of a climate policy," says study co-author Noelle Eckley Selin, an associate professor in MIT"s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society and the department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).
China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, mainly due to much of the country"s energy comes from coal-fired power plants, a major source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
China is considered a potential leader in the fight against climate change after the US retreated from the Paris accord.
The MIT team used a model to simulate how a climate policy changes a province"s economic activity, energy use and emissions of CO2 and other air pollutants. It calculated the amount of pollution which communities inhale, and consulted epidemiological literature to determine the number of deaths that would be avoided.
The researchers then calculated the economic value of the deaths and compared them with the total cost of implementing the policy.
The MIT team, which included economists and atmospheric scientists, looked at whether China"s local air quality and public health might benefit from a national policy meant to improve the global climate.
The team found that, under a "no-policy scenario"", China would have more than 2.3 million premature, pollution-related deaths by 2030. If it reduces emissions by 3, 4 or 5 percent per year, China would avoid 36,000, 94,000 and 160,000 premature deaths, respectively.
The MIT team converted each scenario"s health co-benefits into a monetary value and found that, compared to the total cost of implementing a 3, 4 or 5 percent per year policy, the savings from health co-benefits equals $138.4 billion, $339.6 billion and $534.8 billion, respectively. In the 4 percent scenario, which is most in line with China"s actual climate pledge, the $339.6 billion savings would be about four times the cost of implementing the policy.