There is too much emphasis on what our carbon reduction journey will cost and not enough on what we will gain, including longer, healthier lives, says a group of researchers from the University of Otago.
Otago researchers including this year’s Winner of Prime Minister Michael Baker’s Science Communication Award say there is plenty of evidence that a high emission lifestyle makes us sick and costs the country billions of dollars.
Researchers – Tim Chambers, Simon Hales, Caroline Shaw, Jude Ball, Cristina Cleghorn, Nick Wilson, and Baker – were disappointed that health benefits were not included in the Climate Commission’s economic projections final advice.
If we reduce CO2, we live longer, spend more money, have fewer sick days and work more productively. They say this effect could cancel each other out the somewhat slower economic growth based on the model of the Climate Commission in the transition to net zero – in fact, the researchers believe it is likely that the country will see a “net positive” increase in our GDP.
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In its final report, the Commission set a number of carbon budgets to help us achieve our Zero Carbon Act targets. Our economy would still grow if we met these budgets – albeit a little more slowly, the Commission noted: about 0.5 percent less in 2035 and 1.2 percent less in 2050.
(It was also warned that this economic impact could soar to 2.3 percent in 2050 if we don’t make great strides in adopting electric cars and finding methane reduction solutions.)
Our GDP – a measure of all finished goods and services in our economy – reached $ 325 billion in March. The Commission’s models say this will grow to $ 386 billion by 2035, with about $ 2 billion saved from our efforts to reduce emissions. By 2050, there will be about $ 481 billion in circulation, albeit with a reduction of $ 6 billion.
But these models are a limited view of reality. For example, they cannot quantify how the country might change its behavior as we get healthier.
AUT researcher Niven Winchester helped the commission build their model. He said economic models can only do so many things.
The Commission’s final report summarizes many of the health benefits of not using fossil fuels. On air pollution, it said: “New Zealanders will benefit from fewer respiratory and cardiovascular diseases by turning away from burning fossil fuels. Gasoline and diesel vehicles, fossil gas heaters and stoves, and fossil fuel industries all contribute to indoor and outdoor air pollution. “
The report also references many of the costs of today’s high carbon lifestyle that have been quantified by Otago researchers throughout their careers. The researchers have compiled a list.
When people burn fossil fuels, tiny particles that are created from that burn are released into the air. We breathe this air pollution and it withers away Children’s lung and causes cardiovascular disease.
The total cost of air pollution – everything from hospital bills to years lost from past deaths – was calculated at $ 4.3 billion a year. Motor vehicles contribute 22 percent and industry 10 percent.
Most of the air pollution comes from domestic fireplaces. In addition to gas and coal appliances, household fireplaces also include wood burners. Since these are not a source of fossil carbon, wood fires are not targeted by emission reduction measures.
The Commission would like us to walk and cycle more often on short journeys. That could save a lifetime between $ 127 million and $ 2.1 billion, according to another study.
The Commission also recommends that houses continue to be insulated to reduce energy consumption. Research in 2012 found that the Warm Up NZ program was likely to turn public health around $ 1.2 billion over 30 years.
Plant-based diets were not on the commission’s menu, but they increased our intake of products could save our healthcare system up to $ 20 billion, on the lifelong health bill of the entire population ages 10 and older, according to Otago research.
However, the studies on estimating health costs and measuring future GDP quantify different things.
For example, the $ 4.3 billion in health care costs from air pollution include some things that increase our GDP – like taxpayer spending in hospitals employing doctors, nurses, and support staff – and others that decrease our GDP, like premature ones Deaths and people illness make them less productive.
Chambers, a senior public health research fellow, said a major contributor to these costs was reduced productivity. Illness and early death are a tragedy for people, whānau and friends – but it also hurts the economy because people contribute less as entrepreneurs, employees and consumers.
“This has a direct impact on GDP,” he added. “These are major health problems that create a tremendous financial burden.”
Chambers is confident that GDP will rise rather than fall as the country cuts greenhouse gas emissions and people get healthier.
“The weight of the financial burden of all these health costs, which could be mitigated by appropriate climate protection measures, is simply so much greater than the deficits we are talking about in terms of GDP.”
Winchester, the AUT researcher, said economic modeling in China – which sources a high proportion of its electricity from coal – has shown that if fossil fuels are abandoned, the country’s GDP growth will accelerate because the health impact is so great are. But he warned that the level of air pollution in China dwarfs our own problem.
To produce the kind of numbers the researchers are looking for, the commission’s economic model would have to be linked to another – one such air pollution model, Winchester said.
“You need a large team of modelers from different backgrounds, which is why the Climate Change Commission certainly didn’t,” he added. “These are not easy projects.”
Winchester also stated that the Commission’s GDP estimates will be compared to a business-as-usual scenario through 2050. In this scenario, the country is still reducing its CO2 emissions – for example, 90 percent of trips will be made with electric cars in 2050. because they are expected to be much cheaper to buy (as well as to run). The Commission’s accelerated demonstration plan increases this to 100 percent. Because of this, the health and productivity gains could be less significant, he said.
To be fair, an estimate would also have to calculate any additional health risks from our carbon reduction efforts, added Winchester. For example, if energy becomes more expensive, people could be forced to turn off the heating in winter, which could have a negative impact on their health.
“I don’t think you’ll ever get an analytical framework that fits everything … [but] You also have to look at the other side of the coin. “
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