Photo: Power station. Si Ping, Ji Lin, China © zhuyongming / Getty Images

Almost all processes that produce air pollutants also impact health and contribute to climate change. Emphasizing the near-term human health benefits of managing air pollutants can act as a major driver for policy change, which in turn, can achieve long-term benefits for reducing climate change.

Fast action to reduce short-lived climate pollutants – especially methane, black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons – is required alongside drastic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, to stay within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5°C goal. Immediate coordinated action on reducing short-lived climate pollutants can prevent over 0.5°C of warming by 2050, but can also reduce the health impacts from air pollution, including exposure to small particulate matter and tropospheric ozone.

SEI research has highlighted the main impacts of air pollution on health, showing that small particulate matter can be related to millions of asthma-related visits to hospital each year globally, and over two million pre-term births, which can have life-long health implications for survivors.

This knowledge can motivate action on air pollutants and in turn reduce greenhouse gases, helping to achieve the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5°C goal. Human health can be an important driver for policy change, as recently highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic. If this opportunity is to be realized, then countries and cities need to know which air pollution measures and policies at national and urban scales can provide both human health and climate change reduction benefits.

The Low Emissions Analysis Platform and Integrated Benefits Calculator (LEAP), developed by the SEI, enables integrated modelling of emission projections for air pollutants, short-lived climate pollutants and greenhouse gases in countries and cities under different scenarios, charting progress towards the 1.5°C goal. The Integrated Benefits Calculator module of the tool allows users to assess the implications of different climate policies on human health.