Largest health gains from cleaner electricity generation can be made in middle-income countries such as India and China

November 25, 2009

Decreasing the proportion of carbon-based electricity generation will lead to significant health benefits worldwide. Middle-income countries such as India and China would see the largest benefit, but developed nations such as the European Union (EU) states would also see health gains. The issues around electricity generation are discussed in the third paper in the Lancet Series on Health and Climate Change, written by Professor Anil Markandya, BC3 Basque Centre for Climate Change, Bilbao, Spain, and colleagues.

The authors assessed the changes in particle air pollution emissions, and consequent effects on health that are likely to result from greenhouse-gas mitigation measures in the electricity generation sector in the EU, China, and India. The authors looked at the likely effect in 2030 of pursuing a path that reduces total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 50% by 2050 globally, compared with emissions in 1990. They looked at a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario in 2030, and compared it with two mitigation strategies.

Under the estimates, the EU27 countries, India, and China would all see substantial reductions in their fossil-fuel-dependent electricity generation, along with increases in their renewable and nuclear energy compared with the BAU 2030 scenario. For example, in the EU, the most optimistic estimate would see the proportion of coal-generated electricity at 26% (compared with BAU 37%), in India it would be 49% (BAU 76%). Renewables (not including nuclear) would be 26% in the EU27 in the best-case scenario, compared to 14% BAU; and in China, renewable would make up 29% of electricity generation compared to 19% BAU.*

The authors found that, in the EU, China, and India, changes of modes of electricity generation would reduce not only carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions but also particulate air pollution and consequently mortality. The greatest effect would be in India, where electricity generation is associated with the greatest level of particulate pollution, and the smallest in the EU, where electricity production from fossil fuels is already quite clean.

The best-case scenario would, in India, avert 93,000 premature deaths in 2030 compared with BAU. In the EU, 5,000 deaths would be averted and in China the number would be 57,000. These would arise from reductions in a range of cardiorespiratory/lung cancer/acute respiratory illnesses. In monetary terms, health benefits were found to be in the range of $2 per tonne of CO2 not emitted in the EU, $7 in China, and $46 in India. By subtracting health benefits from direct costs of decarbonising electricity, only small reductions in direct costs are seen in the EU, but appreciable reductions would occur in China and India. In fact, for India, health benefit exceeds the direct costs of reducing CO2, leaving a negative net cost of $4 per tonne of CO2 not emitted.

The authors say: "This study indicates that some health benefits will result from changes in the means of electricity generation in response to a 50% CO2 reduction target by 2050. Estimates indicate savings in years of life that will be greatest in India, followed by China. If in 2030 changes were made that were consistent with the 2050 reduction targets, gains in India and China would be about 1500 and 500 life-years per million people, respectively. In the EU, the benefits are expected to be more modest, at around 100 life-years per million people in 2030."

They conclude: "We believe that we have shown clear health gains through decarbonising electricity production, and added information about the extent of such gains and how they are likely to compare, under the scenarios considered, in three regions of the world. We have also illustrated how those gains could be expressed in monetary terms to inform economic analyses. Health benefits are not usually taken into account when deciding between policies affecting electricity production, whether or not that policy considers climate change. Here, we make a case for doing so."
Professor Anil Markandya, BC3 Basque Centre for Climate Change, Bilbao, Spain. T) + 34 94 4014754 / (while in UK) +44 (0)7802 414156 E)

Professor Ben Armstrong, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK. T) +44 (0)207 927 2232 E)

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Press Office. T) +44 (0) 20 7927 2073 E) /

For full Series paper 3, see:

Note to editors: * see table 1, page 5 of paper 3 for full details


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