Researchers say economy could improve as we cut carbon


There has been too much emphasis on what our carbon-cutting journey will cost and not enough on what we will achieve, says a group of University of Otago researchers.

Researchers in Otago, including this year’s Prime Minister’s Science Communications Prize winner Michael Baker, say there is plenty of evidence showing high-emission lifestyles make us sick and cost the country billions of dollars.

The researchers – Tim Chambers, Simon Hales, Carolyn Shaw, Jude Ball, Christina Cleghorn, Nick Wilson and Baker – were disappointed that the Climate Change Commission’s final advice did not include health benefits in economic forecasts.

As we cut carbon, we will live longer, spend more money, have fewer sick days and work more productively. They say this effect could counterbalance the slightly slower economic growth projected by the Climate Change Commission as we transition to net zero – in fact, researchers think it’s likely that the country will increase our GDP ” net positive” profit.

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In its final report, the Commission set out a series of carbon budgets to help us achieve our Zero Carbon Act goals. If we meet these budgets our economy will still grow – but at a slightly slower rate, the commission found: about 0.5 percent less in 2035 and 1.2 percent less in 2050.

(It also warned that if we don’t make much progress in launching electric cars and finding methane-cutting solutions, this economic impact could increase to 2.3 percent in 2050.)

Our GDP – a measure of all the absolute goods and services in our economy – reached $325 billion in March. The Commission’s model says this will increase to $386b by 2035 due to our efforts to cut emissions, with about $2b shaved off. By 2050, there will be a decline of about $481 billion, although there will be a decrease of $6 billion.

But these models are a limited view of reality. As an example, they cannot determine how a country can change its behavior as we become healthier.

AUT researcher Niven Winchester helped the commission build its model. He said economic models can only do so much.

The commission’s final report summarized the many health benefits of giving up fossil fuels. On air pollution, it notes: “New Zealanders would benefit from reduced respiratory and cardiovascular disease by abstaining from burning fossil fuels. Petrol and diesel vehicles, fossil gas heaters and stoves, and fossil fuel-powered industries all contribute to indoor and outdoor air pollution. “

The report also makes reference to the many costs of today’s carbon-intensive lifestyles, which the Otago researchers have determined over the course of their careers. Researchers have compiled a list.

About a quarter of all our air pollution comes from the exhaust pipes of petrol and diesel cars – and it makes us sick.

Andrew Gory/Stuff

About a quarter of all our air pollution comes from the exhaust pipes of petrol and diesel cars – and it makes us sick.

When people burn fossil fuels, tiny particles produced in this combustion are released into the air. We breathe in this air pollution, and it affects the lungs of children and causes heart disease.

The total cost of air pollution – everything from hospital bills to earlier deaths to lost years – has been calculated to be $4.3 billion each year. Motor vehicles contribute 22 percent and industry 10 percent.

The majority of air pollution comes from household fire places. As well as gas and coal appliances, places of domestic fire also include wood burners. Since these fossils are not a source of carbon, wood fires would not be targeted by emissions-reduction policies.

The Commission wants us to walk and cycle more often when we are making short trips. Over a lifetime, this could save between $127 million and $2.1b, according to another study.

The commission also recommends that we continue to insulate homes to reduce energy use. Research in 2012 found that the Warm Up NZ program has increased public health by $1.2 billion over 30 years.

According to research from Otago, plant-based diets weren’t on the Commission’s menu, but increasing our produce intake could save our health system up to $20b, the lifetime health bills of the entire population age 10 and older. In.

Reduced use of nitrogen fertilizer has also been put forward – and nitrates in drinking water increase pollution and premature birth.

However, studies assessing health costs and measures of future GDP are quantifying different things.

According to experts, by cycling more, we will increase our activity level, making us healthier and more productive.

Monkey Business Image/123RF

According to experts, by cycling more, we will increase our activity level, making us healthier and more productive.

For example, the $4.3 billion in health care costs from air pollution includes some of the things that increase our GDP – such as taxpayer spending on hospitals that employ doctors, nurses and support staff – and others that increase our GDP. reduce GDP, such as premature death and death from diseases make them less productive.

A major contributor to these costs was low productivity, said Chambers, a public health senior research fellow. Ill health and untimely death is a tragedy for people, Vanau and friends – but it also hurts the economy, as people contribute less as business owners, employees and consumers.

“It has a direct impact on GDP,” he said. “These are major health problems that are creating an enormous amount of financial burden.”

Chambers is confident that GDP will improve rather than improve as the country cuts greenhouse emissions and makes people healthier.

“The weight of the financial burden of all these health costs, which can be reduced with appropriate climate action, is much greater than the deficit we are talking about in GDP.”

Winchester, the auto researcher, said economic modeling in China – which receives a high proportion of electricity from coal – has shown that the country’s GDP growth will accelerate as it abandons fossil fuels, because the health effects are so large. Huh. But he warned that the scale of air pollution in China is our own problem.

By eating a lot of plant-based foods, we can cut emissions and save up to $20 billion in health costs, researchers conclude.

Elena Veselova/123RF

By eating a lot of plant-based foods, we can cut emissions and save up to $20 billion in health costs, researchers conclude.

Winchester said the commission’s economic model would need to be linked to others — such an air pollution model — to produce the kind of numbers researchers are after.

“You need a big team of modelers from different backgrounds, so I’m sure the Climate Change Commission hasn’t done that,” he said. “These are not easy projects to do.”

Winchester also clarified that the Commission’s GDP projections are compared to the normal business scenario until 2050. In that scenario, the country still cuts its carbon – for example, 90 percent of trips in 2050 are made by electric cars, as they are expected to be much cheaper to buy (as well as to drive). The Commission’s Accelerated Performance Scheme raises this to 100 percent. Because of this, health and productivity gains may be less important, he said.

Also, to be fair, an estimate would be needed to calculate any additional health risks of our carbon-cutting efforts, Winchester said. For example, if energy becomes more expensive, people may be forced to turn off heating in the winter, which can negatively impact their health.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to have an analytical framework that gets everything out there… [but] You have to see the other side of the coin too.”

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