As climate change continues to pose problems for the present and future health of the global population, alternatives must be explored. Notably, since the process of mitigating climate change will largely come through a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions–such as those that arise from burning coal–a shift to alternatives could provide side benefits to human populations by reducing the levels of particulate matter (PM) emitted into the air and thus reducing air pollution levels.

This paper, published in April 2021 in Frontiers in Public Health and co-authored by Cook Center postdoctoral associate Melissa J. Scott, estimates the health benefits of more stringent alternative energy goals in China projected in 2030. Specifically, Scott and her co-authors explore a range of scenarios in which coal-fired power plant emissions are either reduced or completely or partially replaced by renewable energy and natural gas.

Key Findings

  • The greatest health co-benefits arise in estimated scenarios wherein coal energy is eliminated in 2030 and replaced by renewables.
  • The greatest health benefits are found in the densely populated Eastern regions of China, where coal is heavily used for energy.
  • Reducing coal energy in China via emission controls in power plants would free up $9.4 billion in the annual energy budget to spend on alternatives; completely eliminating the cost of coal energy frees up $32 billion.
  • The estimates in the paper suggest that increasing alternative energy in China more aggressively than is currently planned provides health benefits (a reduction in premature deaths) that are worth the additional investment.