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Bangladesh shows how to connect the dots between climate, pollution and health

This article explores research in Bangladesh that evaluated the local air pollution and human health impacts of policies that help mitigate global climate change. This study – produced by a team of researchers at SEI, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, University of Colorado, Duke University, George Washington University, and the UN Environment Programme – is the first to quantify the level public health benefits from the improved air quality that Bangladesh could achieve by implementing its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the goals of the Paris Agreement. The Bangladesh experience offers an example of how countries can do the same.

Published on 13 November 2020
Burning rice husks at a rice mill in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Burning rice husks is a source of air pollution in Bangladesh. Photo: Richard l’Anson / Getty Images

The work in Bangladesh used SEI’s Low Emissions Analysis Platform-Integrated Benefits Calculator (LEAP-IBC), which gives low- and middle-income countries a practical tool to evaluate the local air quality impacts of adopting policies that will contribute to the global aim of mitigating climate change. In this Q&A, two members of the research team – SEI Senior Research Fellow Chris Malley and Professor Tanvir Ahmed of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology – discuss the work and related insights.

The modeling work you did was specifically tailored for Bangladesh. Why was this important?

Tanvir Ahmed: Every country is unique. We, like other countries, must think about air pollution sources from a variety of sources – from homes, industries, vehicles and waste sites. In Bangladesh, major local sources of air pollution are traditional cookstoves, traditional brick kilns, rice parboiling units, municipal solid waste open burning, and transport vehicles, particularly diesel-run ones. These are the concerns in Bangladesh, but not necessarily in other countries. So, in order to make the inventory more relevant nationally, it is important to tailor the modeling work based on local emission sources.

For the first time...we can prioritize the mitigation measures that would generate the maximum possible benefits.

All countries have idiosyncrasies to confront.

Chris Malley: That’s right. That is why the bespoke analysis that we can conduct with LEAP-IBC is so important. We can tailor the analysis according to circumstance – to address pollution sources that are a concern at the national level, and to conduct more detailed analyses for those sectors of special interests. For example, in Bangladesh, we needed to incorporate the impacts from burning rice husks to parboil rice. But other countries need to address other specific sources. In Mexico, sugar mills make a large contribution to emissions of black carbon particulate matter, from the burning of bagasse as a fuel for the mills. In Ghana, the smoking of fish can be a local source of air pollution emissions.

How did the modeling work affect understanding among Bangladeshi planners about the links between measures that would address local air pollution issues and the global climate change mitigation mission?

Tanvir Ahmed: LEAP-IBC modeling enabled us to quantify relationships – something we hadn’t been able to do before. For the first time, we can quantitatively estimate the relative contributions from these different sectors. This means we can prioritize the mitigation measures that would generate the maximum possible benefits. We can assess which measures offer the greatest potential to reduce air pollutants, mitigate climate change, and generate health benefits.

This helps us develop different scenarios of pollution abatement measures, depending on national priorities and existing and future plans and programmes. We can use this information to draw a pathway for mitigation actions that demonstrate benefits, and to help us envisage the effects in terms of the potential to reduce global warming. This information helps us to connect the dots in specific ways. We can demonstrate the connections between our air pollution reduction efforts and health benefits and global warming reduction – which had not been done before for Bangladesh.

...stakeholders saw clearly that enforcing just a few, key, existing mitigation measures can generate huge benefits – both in terms of reducing the prevalence of certain diseases here, and in terms of benefitting the global climate. This was a powerful motivator.

What is the upshot of this work for Bangladesh?

Tanvir Ahmed: The concrete link between air pollution reduction and climate and health benefits was an eye-opener for our national stakeholders. The link between air pollution and disease is well-understood at the local level. However, the stakeholders saw clearly that enforcing just a few, key, existing mitigation measures can generate huge benefits – both in terms of reducing the prevalence of certain diseases here, and in terms of benefitting the global climate. This was a powerful motivator. It gave stakeholders a deeper level of confidence to advocate for and take actions.

For example, the work showed that a combination of measures that reduce short-lived climate pollutants, and other existing NDC measures for Bangladesh can generate large climate benefits. As a result, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change will probably try to better align measures to reduce short-lived climate pollutants with its NDC measures. And, also as a result, the next revision of the Bangladesh NDC to the Paris Agreement will have measures that could result in an enhanced mitigation ambition. Key actors will be more confident to do this if the results of this work are made visible to them. In that respect, I think the outcome/results of this paper can have a large impact.

a paddy drying field in Bangladesh

A paddy drying field in Bangladesh. Photo: Robert M. Glover / EyeEm / Getty Images

Could similar links be made in other areas – beyond air pollution?

Chris Malley: Yes. The sources that emit air pollutants and greenhouse gases overlap to a large degree, making them an obvious first target. However, there are many other impacts that can and should be quantified for different emission- reduction strategies. Some of these can already be quantified in LEAP. For example, LEAP, as an energy planning tool, can provide information and statistics regarding energy access, sustainability of energy supply, and other sustainable development goals (SDGs), particularly for SDG 7 – to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

We’re taking other steps to take advantage of these links. SEI’s Integrated Climate and Development Planning initiative is working to expand the range of sustainable development consequences of emission pathways that can be quantitatively assessed with tools like LEAP. The overarching aim of this initiative is to provide planners involved in developing climate change mitigation the ability to understand as broad a range of the consequences of different policies and measures as possible. LEAP will continue to be updated to expand the range of sustainable development aspects that can be evaluated within it modelling framework.

LEAP has been widely and successfully used for energy planning and greenhouse gas mitigation for many years. The work done in Bangladesh seems to take things further. How so?

Chris Malley: In the Bangladesh analysis, we quantified the emission reduction potential for both greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Then, using the new IBC module, we used these emissions data to calculate estimates of the health effects from reducing exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution, and the global warming impacts of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

All LEAP users can now do the same. They can evaluate the air pollution and climate impacts of different emission scenarios. The module can assess air pollution health impacts for over 100 countries, and it comes with every LEAP download. National governments, universities and consultants in countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are using this tool. When countries have the tools to do this work, the linkages become clearer. And, we hope that this will create more opportunities for greater ambition for climate change mitigation.

About LEAP

LEAP was developed in 1990 by Charlie Heaps, SEI Energy Modeling Program Director at SEI-US. LEAP is widely used by national governments, research institutions, and academia for energy modelling, and climate change mitigation strategies. More than 30 countries used LEAP in the development of their Nationally Determined Contributions in the run up to the Paris Agreement. The LEAP online community includes more than 22,000 members in 191 countries. The tool continues to evolve to harness new technologies that allow LEAP to do more. As a result of its most recent upgrade, LEAP-IBC can now assess specific impacts of different emissions scenarios on human health and on climate change.


Chris Malley

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

Tanvir Ahmed

Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

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