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State and Local Climate and Energy Program


Health Impacts Associated with Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that humans are impacted by climate change directly through changing weather patterns and indirectly through changes in water, air, food quality and quantity, ecosystems, agriculture, and economy.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program, in its report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the U.S. (2009), has analyzed the degree to which impacts on human health are expected to impact the United States.

Potential effects of climate change on public health include:

  • Direct Temperature Effects: Climate change may directly affect human health through increases in average temperatures, which are predicted to increase the incidence of heat waves and hot extremes.
  • Extreme Events: Climate change may affect the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and extreme heat and floods, which can be destructive to human health and well-being.
  • Climate–Sensitive Diseases: Climate change may increase the risk of some infectious diseases, particularly those diseases that appear in warm areas and are spread by mosquitoes and other insects, such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis.
  • Air Quality: Respiratory disorders may be exacerbated by warming-induced increases in the frequency of smog (ground-level ozone) events and particulate air pollution.

More details are available from EPA's Climate Change – Health and Environmental Effects Web page.

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Health Benefits of Climate Change Mitigation

Significantly reducing greenhouse gases should minimize the negative impacts on human health that are predicted to occur due to climate change over the long term.

In addition, many energy efficiency and renewable energy programs that reduce greenhouse gases also reduce criteria pollutants and therefore have direct and more immediate health benefits in addition to lessening climate change.

Clean energy programs, by reducing fossil fuel use, typically reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulfur dioxide, mercury and other toxic metals, diesel, and black carbon. Reducing these primary pollutants also reduces “secondary” pollutants (ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5)) that form in the air. O3 and PM2.5 are of particular concern because they are most prevalent and are linked with a variety of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses and death.

Health research has established strong relationships between air pollution and health effects ranging from fairly mild effects such as respiratory symptoms and missing a day of school or work, to more severe effects such as hospital admissions, heart attacks, onset of chronic heart and lung diseases, and premature death.

The impact of any kind of clean energy resource on air pollutant and GHG emissions and its subsequent effect on human health or global climate change varies depending on the generation sources that are displaced and the resource that is displacing the generation.

Estimating the health benefits of air quality improvements can be achieved through basic or sophisticated modeling methods. More information is available on Assessing Air Quality, Greenhouse Gas, and Public Health Benefits.

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Tools and Resources

Assessing the Multiple Benefits of Clean Energy

Assessing the Multiple Benefits of Clean Energy: A Resource for States provides an overview of the multiple benefits of clean energy and their importance. It includes information on:

  • The importance of and approaches to calculating or estimating energy savings as the foundation for deriving multiple benefits
  • A range of tools and approaches to estimating energy systems, environmental, and economic benefits across varying levels of rigor
  • How states have supported the use of clean energy through the estimation of multiple benefits

Co–Benefits Risk Assessment (COBRA) Screening Model

COBRA is a screening tool that enables users to:

  • Roughly estimate the impact of emission changes on ambient air pollution
  • Further translate this into health effect impacts
  • Monetize the value of those impacts
  • View the estimated county-level results in tables and maps

COBRA includes the following health endpoints:

  • Mortality
  • Chronic and acute bronchitis
  • Non-fatal heart attacks
  • Respiratory or cardiovascular hospital admissions
  • Upper and lower respiratory symptom episodes
  • Asthma effects, exacerbations, and emergency room visits
  • Shortness of breath, wheeze, and cough (in asthmatics)
  • Minor restricted activity days

Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP)

BenMAP is a tool for estimating the health and economic benefits of air pollution reduction strategies. It combines air pollution monitoring data, air quality modeling data, census information, and population projections to calculate a population's potential exposure to ambient air pollution. BenMAP is used primarily to estimate benefits from changes in particulate matter and ozone concentrations, but it can also be adapted for other pollutants. Most Windows–based computers run BenMAP.

NESCAUM Multi-Pollutant Policy Analysis Framework

Multi–pollutant planning addresses more than one pollutant at a time, integrating efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, criteria pollutants, regional haze, and air toxics simultaneously. Integrated multi–pollutant planning has the potential to be a more cost–effective way to address environmental and public health issues. It also can help assess unintended consequences of various control approaches and identify the best mix of policies and controls to protect both public health and the environment. NESCAUM has developed a Multi–pollutant Policy Analysis Framework Exit EPA disclaimer to assist states in integrating their planning efforts.

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