IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

8.7.1 Health and climate protection: clean energy

There is general agreement that health co-benefits from reduced air pollution as a result of actions to reduce GHG emissions can be substantial and may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs (Barker et al., 2001, 2007; Cifuentes et al., 2001; West et al., 2004). In addition, actions to reduce methane emissions will decrease global concentrations of surface ozone. A portfolio of actions, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and transport measures, is needed in order to achieve these reductions (see IPCC, 2007c).

In many low-income countries, access to electricity is limited. Over half of the world’s population still relies on biomass fuels and coal to meet their energy needs (WHO, 2006). These biomass fuels have low combustion efficiency and a significant, but unknown, portion is harvested non-renewably, thus contributing to net carbon emissions. The products of incomplete combustion from small-scale biomass combustion contain a number of health-damaging pollutants, including small particles, carbon monoxide, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and a range of toxic volatile organic compounds (Bruce et al., 2000). Human exposures to these pollutants within homes are large in comparison with outdoor air pollution exposures. Current best estimates, based on published epidemiological studies, are that biomass fuels in households are responsible annually for approximately 0.7 to 2.1 million premature deaths in low-income countries (from a combination of lower-respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer). About two-thirds occur in children under the age of five and most of the rest occur in women (Smith et al., 2004).

Clean development and other mechanisms could require calculation of the co-benefits for health when taking decisions about energy projects, including the development of alternative fuel sources (Smith et al., 2000, 2005). Projects promoting co-benefits in low-income populations show promise to help achieve cost-effective, long-term protection from climate impacts as well as promoting immediate sustainable development goals (Smith et al., 2000).