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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Apr 9;116(15):7192-7197. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1819989116. Epub 2019 Mar 25.

Effects of fossil fuel and total anthropogenic emission removal on public health and climate.

Author information

1
Department of Atmospheric Chemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, 55128 Mainz, Germany; jos.lelieveld@mpic.de.
2
Energy, Environment and Water Research Center, The Cyprus Institute, 1645 Nicosia, Cyprus.
3
Department of Atmospheric Chemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, 55128 Mainz, Germany.
4
Population Studies Division, Health Canada, Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9, Canada.
5
Department of Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1 9SH, United Kingdom.
6
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0221.

Abstract

Anthropogenic greenhouse gases and aerosols are associated with climate change and human health risks. We used a global model to estimate the climate and public health outcomes attributable to fossil fuel use, indicating the potential benefits of a phaseout. We show that it can avoid an excess mortality rate of 3.61 (2.96-4.21) million per year from outdoor air pollution worldwide. This could be up to 5.55 (4.52-6.52) million per year by additionally controlling nonfossil anthropogenic sources. Globally, fossil-fuel-related emissions account for about 65% of the excess mortality, and 70% of the climate cooling by anthropogenic aerosols. The chemical influence of air pollution on aeolian dust contributes to the aerosol cooling. Because aerosols affect the hydrologic cycle, removing the anthropogenic emissions in the model increases rainfall by 10-70% over densely populated regions in India and 10-30% over northern China, and by 10-40% over Central America, West Africa, and the drought-prone Sahel, thus contributing to water and food security. Since aerosols mask the anthropogenic rise in global temperature, removing fossil-fuel-generated particles liberates 0.51(±0.03) °C and all pollution particles 0.73(±0.03) °C warming, reaching around 2 °C over North America and Northeast Asia. The steep temperature increase from removing aerosols can be moderated to about 0.36(±0.06) °C globally by the simultaneous reduction of tropospheric ozone and methane. We conclude that a rapid phaseout of fossil-fuel-related emissions and major reductions of other anthropogenic sources are needed to save millions of lives, restore aerosol-perturbed rainfall patterns, and limit global warming to 2 °C.

KEYWORDS:

air pollution; climate change; greenhouse gases; health impacts; hydrologic cycle

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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