Institute for Global Health


UK Lancet Countdown Case Study

The Air Pollution and Health Benefits of the UK Climate Change Act

Project Summary

The UK's Climate Change Act (CCA) is an important piece of legislation with far-reaching public health implications, requiring at least an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. The range of potential interventions to deliver this target is broad, with many of them resulting in lower levels of air pollution from motorised transport and coal-fired power. Implemented correctly, the attendant cardiopulmonary health benefits of cleaner air and increased physical activity are a substantial opportunity for the UK's health.

This paper models and quantifies the economic and health impacts of four mitigation scenarios to 2050 (two of which meet the CCA target), particularly focusing on the air pollution implications from fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3).

In all scenarios where enhanced climate change mitigation was taken, concentrations of NO2 decline significantly, with reduced long-term exposure leading to 4,892,000 to 7,178,000 life-years saved from 2011 to 2154.

In scenarios that meet the CCA targets, median PM2.5 concentrations in Great Britain are predicted to decrease between 40-50%, especially those from road traffic and off-road machinery. However, this is tempered by a 2035 peak in biomass (wood burning); the potential use of biomass in poorly controlled technologies to meet the CCA commitments would represent an important 'missed opportunity', resulting in 422,000 to 1,122,000 more life years lost from PM2.5.

Whilst significant overall improvements in absolute levels of exposure are seen compared to present day, these trends mask the fact that health inequalities present today (where socio-economically disadvantaged populations are among the most exposed) are projected to be maintained up to 2050.