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, 116 (15), 7192-7197

Effects of Fossil Fuel and Total Anthropogenic Emission Removal on Public Health and Climate


Effects of Fossil Fuel and Total Anthropogenic Emission Removal on Public Health and Climate

J Lelieveld et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.


Anthropogenic greenhouse gases and aerosols are associated with climate change and human health risks. We used a global model to estimate the climate and public health outcomes attributable to fossil fuel use, indicating the potential benefits of a phaseout. We show that it can avoid an excess mortality rate of 3.61 (2.96-4.21) million per year from outdoor air pollution worldwide. This could be up to 5.55 (4.52-6.52) million per year by additionally controlling nonfossil anthropogenic sources. Globally, fossil-fuel-related emissions account for about 65% of the excess mortality, and 70% of the climate cooling by anthropogenic aerosols. The chemical influence of air pollution on aeolian dust contributes to the aerosol cooling. Because aerosols affect the hydrologic cycle, removing the anthropogenic emissions in the model increases rainfall by 10-70% over densely populated regions in India and 10-30% over northern China, and by 10-40% over Central America, West Africa, and the drought-prone Sahel, thus contributing to water and food security. Since aerosols mask the anthropogenic rise in global temperature, removing fossil-fuel-generated particles liberates 0.51(±0.03) °C and all pollution particles 0.73(±0.03) °C warming, reaching around 2 °C over North America and Northeast Asia. The steep temperature increase from removing aerosols can be moderated to about 0.36(±0.06) °C globally by the simultaneous reduction of tropospheric ozone and methane. We conclude that a rapid phaseout of fossil-fuel-related emissions and major reductions of other anthropogenic sources are needed to save millions of lives, restore aerosol-perturbed rainfall patterns, and limit global warming to 2 °C.

Keywords: air pollution; climate change; greenhouse gases; health impacts; hydrologic cycle.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Avoidable excess mortality rate from air pollution. Units: deaths per 1,000 km2/y. (A) Excess deaths that may be avoided by the phasing out of fossil fuels, and (B) by all anthropogenic emissions. (C) Relative contribution to excess deaths from fossil fuel use compared with all anthropogenic emissions. The dark-blue regions would profit more from removing fossil-fuel-related emissions, while the light-blue ones profit more from removing other pollution sources.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Fractional precipitation changes at the surface. Effects from the removal of fossil-fuel-related and all anthropogenic pollution emissions in Asia, Africa, and Central America. Crosses denote areas where precipitation changes are not significant at the 95% confidence level.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
Temperature changes at the surface from removing particulate air pollution. (A) Due to fossil-fuel-related and (B) due to all anthropogenic emissions. Pollution includes scattering and absorbing (e.g., black carbon) aerosols. Stippling denotes areas where the temperature changes are not significant at the 95% confidence level. Table 1 presents the unavoidable net warming from removing air pollution as well as greenhouse gases.

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