Merged climate, pollution fight seen saving cash

OSLO (Reuters) - Merging separate fights against air pollution and climate change could save cash and encourage developing nations such as China to do more to curb global warming, researchers said Wednesday.

A view of chimneys of the Patnow coal-fired power station near Konin, western Poland December 2, 2008. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

“There are big gains to be made” from a combined policy, said Petter Tollefsen, a researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo (CICERO).

The European Union alone could make efficiency gains of 2.8 billion euros ($3.62 billion) a year by 2020 by combining assaults on air pollution and climate change, according to a CICERO study.

Air pollution and climate change are governed by separate international treaties even though some of the gases, such as nitrogen oxides or methane, are both air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Measures to limit air pollution from fossil fuels can save billions of dollars a year, for instance in lower hospital bills for treating lung disease. Air pollution can also stunt crops.

The curbs can also be part of a longer-term drive to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases blamed by the U.N. Climate Panel for spurring warming set to cause ever more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising seas.

Developing nations such as China and India might do more to fight climate change if it were viewed as a spinoff of a drive to protect public health and food supplies, CICERO said.


“China’s priority is to control air pollution,” said Kristin Aunan, a researcher at CICERO. “The cost of a climate policy is not as high as perhaps the Chinese government perceives. In China, climate policy is treated as foreign affairs, it’s not integrated into environmental policy.”

China, which some studies show has overtaken the United States as top greenhouse gas emitter, argues that rich nations have to take the lead on fighting global warming.

About 190 countries have agreed to work out a successor to the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol, the main accord for fighting global warming, by the end of 2009. Air pollution is governed by deals such as Europe’s 1999 Gothenburg Protocol.

The U.N. Climate Panel in a report in 2007 also said there were efficiency gains to be made.

“Integrating air pollution abatement and climate change mitigation policies offer potentially large cost reductions compared to treating those policies in isolation,” it said.

CICERO said little had happened since then.

Many countries are wary of adding a new layer of complexity to negotiations on a new climate accord that is meant to widen the Kyoto Protocol to all nations. Kyoto binds 37 industrialized nations to cut emissions by 2012.

One complicating factor is that some types of air pollution can curb global warming. Some particles emitted by burning fossil fuels reflect sunlight back into space, cooling the planet.

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Editing by Janet Lawrence