Whenever politicians discuss climate change, the discussion always seem to be something along these lines: “We need to fight climate change, but we also need to balance the costs for this”. Well, a paper published online in Nature Climate Change this week notes that implementing ambitious climate policies is not only cost effective – but it can actually save the country millions, especially in health benefits.

Stopping carbon emissions could save lives and lots of money. Photo by Petey21.

Last year, we witnessed the signing of a monumental agreement – the Paris Climate Deal, signed by 195 countries that pledged their commitment to limit greenhouse gas emissions and keep temperatures as low as possible – specifically, 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (at most). The study showed that if the US follows this deal, then it has a lot to gain financially.

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In the study, Drew Shindell from Duke University modeled the US public health benefits of implementing clean energy and transport policies tailored towards that international goal. In this scenario, the US would reduce transport emissions by up to 75% and energy sector emissions by 63%. This would cause a massive reduction of air pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone and save 295,000 lives by 2030 (175,000 for energy and 120,000 for transport).

According to a 2009 report, around “60 percent of Americans live in areas where air pollution has reached unhealthy levels that can make people sick” and since then the situation hasn’t gotten any better. Unfortunately though, increasing the quality of life and saving lives often isn’t enough motivation for policy makers, so the study also analyzed what would happen financially.

It found that the gains would outweigh the costs by a factor of ten! Clean energy policies estimated to save the US economy up to US$800 billion, and clean transportation polices up to US$400 billion. So if the US does decide to go green as they claimed in Paris, then not only would they be ensuring a more sustainable futures  they would be saving 20,000 lives a year while making money in the process. That sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it?