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A wedge-based approach to estimating health co-benefits of climate change mitigation activities in the United States

An Erratum to this article was published on 06 February 2015


While it has been recognized that actions reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can have significant positive and negative impacts on human health through reductions in ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations, these impacts are rarely taken into account when analyzing specific policies. This study presents a new framework for estimating the change in health outcomes resulting from implementation of specific carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction activities, allowing comparison of different sectors and options for climate mitigation activities. Our estimates suggest that in the year 2020, the reductions in adverse health outcomes from lessened exposure to PM2.5 would yield economic benefits in the range of $6 to $30 billion (in 2008 USD), depending on the specific activity. This equates to between $40 and $198 per metric ton of CO2 in health benefits. Specific climate interventions will vary in the health co-benefits they provide as well as in potential harms that may result from their implementation. Rigorous assessment of these health impacts is essential for guiding policy decisions as efforts to reduce GHG emissions increase in scope and intensity.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Pacala and Socolow defined a wedge in terms of metric tons of carbon (tC) rather than tCO2, but most researchers now express CO2 emissions in terms of tCO2. The conversion ratio is 1 tCO2 = 44/12 tC, or ~3.7:1. Global CO2 emissions since publication of this paper have exceeded even these pessimistic projections; global emissions were 29 GtCO2/year in 2004, and reached 34 GtCO2/year in 2010 (Boden et al. 2011).

  2. 2.

    Assumed in this wedge is the rapid commercialization of highest-efficiency engines, improved aerodynamics, lighter-weight vehicles, more efficient onboard components, early retirement of inefficient vehicles, increased logistics efficiency, and shifting a portion of freight transport to more efficient modes (ship and rail) wherever possible.

  3. 3.

    All projections are based on 2007 data.

  4. 4.

    Another way to increase sector-wide GHG reductions would be to couple fuel efficiency improvements with strategies to reduce vehicle miles travelled (VMT), such as better logistics and switching to more efficient transportation modes (ship and rail) wherever possible.

  5. 5.

    Negative values indicate a net cost savings over the life of the system (vehicle, building, power plant, etc.).


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Acknowledgments and disclaimers

The authors would like to thank Marisa Oge, Lauren Finzer, and Catherine Malina for assistance in conducting the analysis and preparing the manuscript. Jonathan Levy, ScD and Lynn Goldman, MD, MPH provided critical advice on the conduct of the analysis. William Morrow, PhD, PE assembled the set of wedge mitigation cost estimates and provided a comparison between 2007 and 2013 EIA assumptions. We also would like to thank the reviewer for very helpful comments.

This article is the work product of an employee or group of employees of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. However, the statements, opinions or conclusions contained therein do not necessarily represent the statements, opinions or conclusions of the NIH, its component Institutes and Centers, the Regents of the University of California, or the United States government or any agency thereof.

This research was supported in part by Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), which is operated for U.S. Department of Energy under Contract Grant No. DE-AC02-05CH11231.

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Correspondence to John M. Balbus.

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Balbus, J.M., Greenblatt, J.B., Chari, R. et al. A wedge-based approach to estimating health co-benefits of climate change mitigation activities in the United States. Climatic Change 127, 199–210 (2014).

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  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Vehicle Mile Travel
  • Intake Fraction
  • Health Endpoint
  • Wedge Activity