Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

Other reports in this collection

14.2.2 Health Impacts of Mitigation Technologies

There is an opportunity to achieve near-term gains in population health through steps taken to reduce GHG emissions. These benefits are concrete examples of "no-regrets" or "win-win" policies (see Table 14.1).

Table 14.1 Potential impact of GHG reduction technologies and policies on human health
Note: the magnitude of the benefits and negative impacts will depend on the particular technologies used.
Improved efficiency and low emissions cookstoves Reduced air pollution exposure; decreased burn hazard; lowered physical burden of fuel gathering  
Improved building design(including insulation) Reductions in heat/cold related mortality Increase in indoor air pollution from lower ventilation ratesIncreases in humidity and asthma
High-efficiency, low-emissions vehicles, e.g., hybrid, electric. Reduced air pollution and associated reductions in mortality and morbidity Increased accident risk if vehicles become smaller; hazardous material in batteries.
Alternate fuels, e.g., ethanol from biomass Reduced air pollution and associated reductions in mortality and morbidity [See biomass under energy supply]
Increased cycling and walking Increased fitness and well-being  
Better land-use planning and public transport Lower air pollution; reduced accidents and congestion  
Energy Supply
Photovoltaic systems Low pollution; availability of cold storage for medications in remote areas  
Wind energy No air pollution  
Nuclear power Low air and water pollution during routine operation Risk of large accidents; increase of nuclear proliferation risks. Risks from unsafe waste storage
Hydropower(Micro-hydropower may not have so many potential negative effects) Increased water suppliesImproved flood controlLow air pollution Increased incidence of certain disease, e.g., schistosomiasis, malaria, filariasis.Displacement of populationsRisk of large accidents
Biomass fuel, e.g. wood Lower air pollution if an efficient form of combustion is used, e.g., fuel-efficient cookstoves. Indoor air pollution with non-fuel efficient forms of combustion
Natural Gas Lower air pollution Large-accident risks; energy security risks
High-Efficiency Clean Coal Lower air pollution Water pollution and occupational hazards
Solid Waste/Wastewater
Constructed wetlands   Increased vector breeding sites and increased risk of disease transmission.
Advanced treatment to reduce methane emissions Lower air and water pollution  

*Health benefits of mitigating technology are compared to existing technology. Note: Health benefits can be highly variable depending on the type of industry. Whenever there is a change in industry there is a change to occupational exposures and health risks, therefore, reference to specific occupational hazards are not addressed in this table.

While, reductions in GHG emissions are directed principally at achieving long-term global benefit by mitigating climate change, secondary health effects of mitigation technologies are likely to occur at a local level and more immediately. This has important implications for "joint implementation" and "clean development mechanisms". Governments can thus act to optimise health as well as GHG emissions reduction in their populations.

Through the Clean Development Mechanism, investment in GHG mitigation strategies that promote more efficient or low-carbon energy generation can improve health in less developed countries. Fossil fuel combustion produces air pollutants that have both short- and long-term impacts on mortality and morbidity rates (Katsouyanni et al., 1997). The secondary health benefit of reducing air pollutant concentrations can be substantial, particularly for the impacts of particulates, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide. For example, the Working Group on Public Health and Fossil Fuel Combustion (1997) estimated the global health benefit of reduced outdoor exposure to particulates as 700,000 fewer premature deaths per year by 2020 under a Kyoto-like mitigation scenario compared to a business-as-usual scenario. The authors emphasised that simplifying assumptions in the model precluded precise predictions of the number of avoidable deaths and that the estimate of avoided deaths is merely indicative of the approximate magnitude of the likely health benefits of the climate policy scenario. Moreover, comparisons of premature mortality are difficult to interpret across differing populations.

Some country-specific estimates of air pollution-related secondary benefits have also been undertaken. China is an important source of GHG emissions and already suffers a high burden of ill health due to air pollution (WRI, 1998). Reductions in GHGs emissions would have large benefits for the Chinese population through reductions in indoor air pollution (Wang and Smith, 1999a,b). Several studies have evaluated other secondary health benefits associated with air pollution reduction - such as the direct costs of health services used (e.g., Aaheimet al., 1997); or costing lives lost or years-of-life lost (e.g., Ontario Medical Association, 1998; see also IPCC TAR Working Group III (Chapter 9), forthcoming).

The degree of health benefit depends markedly on the particular mitigation scenario that is used in the assessment (Wang and Smith, 1999a). Furthermore, in countries with high levels of air pollution, mitigation strategies will have a greater health benefit per unit GHG emission reduction than in those countries with low levels of air pollution. The degree of health benefit also depends on the current source of energy and the proposed alternative. Switching from natural gas power plants to wind or solar power sources has little near-term health benefit because gas burns relatively cleanly. Reductions in sectors where emissions occur near human activities, e.g., in transport and household/domestic sectors, will have more near-term health benefit per unit GHG reduction than in other sectors (see Box 14.1).

Box 14.1 Cookstoves and indoor air pollution (see Case Study 1, Chapter 16)
Old technologies using traditional non-fossil fuels produce large health-damaging exposures and significant greenhouse-gas emissions. Simple household stoves, which burn mainly biomass fuels (wood, dung, crop residues), provide cooking and heating needs for nearly half the world's households. A large fraction of the carbon in the fuel is diverted into airborne products of incomplete combustion, e.g., particulates, CH4, CO, and hundreds of organic compounds. More than two million premature deaths per year could be attributed globally to the indoor air pollution caused by household solid fuels (WHO, 1997b). Although the total health-damaging emissions of such stoves are less than the emissions in cities, the exposures are much higher, because the pollutants are released indoors at the times and places where people are (Smith et al., 1999). The fraction of HDP that reaches people's breathing zones can vary by 2-3 orders of magnitude depending on where emissions occur (Smith, 1995).

The adverse impacts on health of mitigation technologies must also be considered. An increased demand for hydropower may increase the building of large dams; yet, there has been growing concern about the social and health impacts of large hydropower projects (Goodland, 1997). In 1998, a World Commission on Dams was set up by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union to set new international guidelines. Large water projects in tropical and sub-tropical countries have resulted in increases in the prevalence of schistosomiasis and other diseases, loss of food security and social problems that negatively influence health (Oomen et al., 1994; Brantly and Ramsey, 1998; Lerer and Scudder, 1999). Social impacts include the dislocation of the rural population living in the area to be inundated; over 40 million people are estimated to have been displaced by dam projects over the past 10 years (Cernea, 1996). Resettled families lose homes, land, food sources and employment. Communities that host the resettlers face increased population densities, which places severe pressure on natural resources and water and sanitation infrastructure. Reduction of fish populations downstream has affected indigenous populations that rely on fish as their main source of animal protein. For example, downstream of the Tucurui dam, Brazil, affected communities along the Tocantins River complained that seven fish species have almost disappeared (Confalonieri, personal communication, 1998). The health impact of dams may also include increases in the transmission of vector-borne diseases. For example, an increase in the population of mosquito vectors of malaria due to the availability of more breeding sites has been observed at the Tucurui dam (Tadei, 1993).

Small-scale hydroelectric power generation schemes rarely use dams, but instead collect water from smaller structure such as weirs. Such schemes may also have undesirable local effects, such as providing vector breeding sites (Ghebreyesus et al., 1999), although small-scale dams are generally less environmentally damaging than are large-scale projects. The most promising application of small-scale hydropower appears to be in isolated communities, to provide electricity for limited uses (e.g., lighting, communications, refrigeration) when there is no other feasible means of providing a continuous supply. In these conditions hydro schemes may have positive effects (including benefits for public health such as better vaccine storage, telemedicine, education) that outweigh relatively minor, local environmental and health impacts (EECA, 1996).

The evaluation and full-cost accounting of GHG mitigation technologies should include an assessment of the health impacts of these technologies. Regrettably, although environmental health impact assessments are an important part of environmental impact assessment, they are often omitted and are all too rarely a prime determinant of the ultimate policy decision. Lack of awareness of long-term objectives and of a political will to value human well-being and health over material gain contribute to this problem (Last, 1997).

Other reports in this collection

IPCC Homepage