Health and Environmental impacts

Health and environmental impacts are accounted for using EcoSense. The latter is an integrated impact assessment model following the Impact Pathway Approach to estimate health impacts caused by different air pollutants, which is primarily designed to support and inform assessments of different air pollution mitigation strategies and related cost-benefit analyses. The Impact Pathway Approach is a bottom-up method to estimate environmental benefits and costs by following the complete impact chain from source emissions to physical impacts, which can be monetised in a final step.

First, changes in anthropogenic emissions are translated into changes in air pollutant concentration levels by using dispersion and air quality models. Air pollutants are transported and transformed over long distances; a change in emissions in one country may lead to a change in concentration levels in a different country. Additionally, some pollutants may react chemically with each other, leading to secondary pollutants such as secondary aerosols or ozone. To account for these complex, partially non-linear chemical transformation processes, a chemistry-transport model (CTM) can be applied. CTMs are full atmospheric dispersion models to estimate concentration and deposition levels of air pollutants by taking into account meteorology and chemical transformation schemes, reflecting the complex mechanisms in the atmosphere. Due to the inherited complexity and non-linearity, these models are computationally expensive. Particularly in policy assessment, where often many different scenarios need to be analysed, computer time and power are, however, critical resources. To reduce computation time, EcoSense implements a parameterised atmospheric dispersion model in form of country-to-grid source receptor matrices based on the EMEP/MSC-W CTM, linking a specific change in emissions in the source region to a change in concentration at the receptor grid. The source-receptor matrices allocate changes in emissions of SO2, NOX, non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), NH3 and primary particles (PM2.5 and PM10) in a given country to changes in concentration levels of ozone, NO2 and particulate matter (separated in P PM2.5 and PM10) across Europe and neighbouring regions in Asia and Africa with a spatial resolution of 0.5° × 0.25°. The source-receptor matrices in EcoSense are based on 2020 emission projections, which makes them suitable for estimating future emission reduction impacts. For these future estimates, source-receptor matrixes are averaged over four meteorological years (2006-2010) to account for meteorological variabilities.

To estimate the change in future exposure, detailed population data is needed which is combined with the spatially resolved changes in concentration levels. For this purpose, a high-resolution population density grid has been combined with UN population data to include country-specific age structures and population projections. This means that EcoSense considers demographic change for future years, yet internal migration effects, such as urbanisation, are not included. While the age structure may change over time, the spatial distribution is always taken from the original dataset. The final dataset in EcoSense thus includes spatially resolved population data and projections with 5-year age-bands and a final resolution of 2.5' × 2.5'.

By applying concentration-response functions (CRFs), the marginal physical impacts, i.e. the effects on human health caused by an increase or decrease of 10 μg/m³ in concentration levels, are assessed and multiplied with the respective change in concentration levels. CRFs combine information about the change in risk due to a specific change in ambient concentration levels (relative risk) with background rates of certain health outcomes. Relative risks are derived based on epidemiological studies and are provided for each pollutant-outcome pair. Physical impacts comprise both mortality and morbidity. As mortality due to air pollution is mainly caused by long-term exposure (chronic mortality), it is estimated as average loss in life expectancy based on life table calculations, which results in “Years of Life Lost” (YOLL). Intermediate results in terms of individual health outcomes such as increased chronic mortality, hospital admissions or restricted activity days are aggregated to two common metrics: monetary values and ‘Disability Adjusted Life Years’ (DALY). DALY reflect the impact of a specific health outcome on both the quality and quantity of a life lived by providing scores for each health outcome according to its severity between 1 (death) and 0 (perfect health). When this is combined with the typical duration of an illness, it is possible to calculate a weighted sum of mortality (one YOLL equals one DALY) and morbidity as a combined indicator for health impacts due to air pollution.

Similarly, EcoSense estimates effects on ecosystems as biodiversity losses in terms of fractions lost due to deposition of NOX and SO2 (measured in potentially disappeared fraction). These biodiversity losses are monetized by applying restoration costs, i.e. the costs to restore a specific land use type with fewer species to one with more species. A more detailed description can be found in deliverable D5.2 – Focus report on environmental impacts.

EcoSense is used to estimate health impacts and associated external costs (including biodiversity losses) due to air pollution for different transformation pathways. It is also applied to estimate unit cost factors that can be used in energy system models to estimate the impact of air pollution control on the energy system transformation.

For all the aforementioned estimates, the key data from TIMES PanEU is the emissions of air pollutants (PM2.5, PM10, NOX, SO2, NMVOC, NH3).

Main insights

Message 18: Air quality benefits from clean energy transition and vice versa

Ambitious GHG-mitigation targets seem to be a driving force in reducing air pollution, already achieving reduction levels between 30 % and 55 % in 2050 compared to 2015 for most air pollutants in the EU28 (Figure 20, Reference case). By including health related costs of air pollution in the decision making process (CL pathway), emission reductions are visibly higher in early years (2020), resulting in additional reductions in 2050 of up to 15 %. This additional effort in reducing air pollution also leads to lower GHG emissions in 2050 as well as lower CO2-prices for ETS emissions in all years except 2050. On average, these prices are 44 % lower in the CL pathway compared to the Reference pathway. The other two pathways show similar reduction patterns. The more ambitious, cross-sectoral targets in the PA pathway push emission reductions further, resulting in the lowest emission levels in 2050 across all considered pathways. This indicates that integrated climate change mitigation and air pollution control policies are favourable with air pollution control positively affecting decarbonisation particularly in the near future. These findings also support the idea of an integrated approach to meet all energy-related UN Sustainable Development Goals, which has also been pointed out to be beneficial on world level by IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario.

Variations by pathway

The most striking difference between the four pathways is the sharp increase of SO2 in the Reference pathway between 2030 and 2045. This is mainly caused by conversion processes such as gasification and synthetic fuel production using sulphur-heavy fuels like refinery oil and coal. These processes are not utilized if health costs of air pollution are considered. We also see a sharper initial decrease of air pollutants - especially of particulate matter and SO2 - in the CL pathway in 2020 as a result from banning coal in the residential sector and replacing fuel oil in maritime transport with diesel.

Without considering health costs in the decision making, a high share of biomass in the Reference pathway leads to an increase of PM2.5 emissions from industry, agriculture and the commercial sector (Figure 21). For industry, PM2.5 emissions even increase in all other pathways, indicating that a reduction below 2015 levels is infeasible without additional technical measures due to a high share of process emissions and increasing demand. As shown in Figure 21, introducing air pollution control costs in form of costs of related health impacts, mainly results in reductions in air pollutants in the commercial sector, agriculture, conversion and public electricity and heat production. Increasing demand and process emissions of particulate matter (abrasion and tyre wear) limit the reduction potential in the transport sector without introducing additional technical measures. The potential for electrification in road transport seems to be limited with the PA and the CL pathway showing similar shares of electric vehicles in 2050. Compared to electric technologies in other sectors (e.g. heat pumps in residential), electric vehicles are also not necessarily favourable with regard to air pollution. They may have no exhaust emissions, but they still do emit particulate matter through road abrasion, tyres and break wear, giving them no specific advantage over conventional cars following the new low emission standards as long as there is enough biofuel potential to reduce CO2. This results in almost stagnating emissions of particulate matter from 2040 on (Figure 20).

Compared to the CL pathways, the LS pathway results in better air quality by further reducing NMVOC, NH3 and particulate matter. The active role of consumers to mitigate climate change in combination with a breakthrough in Building Integrated Solar PV in the LS pathway leads to a higher deployment of solar technologies (see also message 1) in the residential and commercial sector, with electricity mainly replacing biomass and natural gas. Similarly, the additional targets for transport push the utilization of biofuels in road transport (see also message 3). This results in less biomass utilization in most other demand sectors as well as lower evaporation of NMVOC from gasoline and ethanol cars in road transport, effectively reducing particulate matter, NH3 and NMVOCs further. Additional reductions of GHG, NOX and SO2 from the residential, commercial and transport sector are counterbalanced by lower reductions in industry and even increasing emissions from agriculture, resulting in effectively the same reduction levels in 2050 as in the CL pathway. Especially agriculture seems to be “free riding” as it does not change its final energy consumption pattern much in 2050 compared to 2015. Since agriculture is the only sector without specific targets in this pathway, it directly profits from any additional ambition in the other sectors. The increase in GHG emissions in agriculture is also dominated by increasing N2O emissions; both CO2 and CH4 are stagnating at their 2015 levels (-4 %).

This situation is different in the PA pathway, which does not only have more ambitious GHG reduction targets, but also aiming at cross-sectoral reductions, taking into account all emissions from all sectors on an equal footing. Although the option and utilisation of biomass CCS (see also message 3) also results in higher emissions (particularly NOX and particulate matter, Figure 21) from public electricity and heat production, the subsequent increased electrification cleans up industry, agriculture and the residential and commercial sector to a sufficient degree to still achieve additional reductions in total emissions between 3 % (SO2) and 14 % (NH3) compared to the CL pathway. GHG are reduced by an additional 12 %. Overall, air quality clearly benefits from ambitious, cross-sectoral GHG reduction targets in this case and further reductions of air pollution seem to be mainly limited by process emissions from industry and road transport (SO2 and particulate matter).

To sum up, taking into account air pollution control and its implications on human health in the decision making leads to higher reductions in emissions of air pollutants and GHG and thus additional benefits for the society. As both climate change and air pollution mostly relate to the same emission sources, climate change mitigation and air pollution control policies should be developed and assessed in an integrated manner to benefit from each other.

Changes in emissions of air pollutants and GHG relative to 2015 levels. Figure 20. Changes in emissions of air pollutants and GHG relative to 2015 levels.

Sector-specific levels of emissions of CO2-eq. and PM2.5 in 2050 relative to 2015 Figure 21. Sector-specific levels of emissions of CO2-eq. and PM2.5 in 2050 relative to 2015

Message 19: Low-carbon transition brings about health benefits

The emission reductions and associated improvements in air quality lead to health benefits in all four pathways, especially in 2050. This is visible in both health impacts given as “Disability Adjusted Life Years” per country representing the exposed population and associated health costs following the “Polluter Pays” principle. Across the EU28, GHG mitigation targets lower associated costs of air pollution in 2050 by 21 % (relative to 2015) resulting in a welfare benefit of 54 bn. € in the Reference case; in the CL pathways these savings are increased to 76 bn. € (Figure 22). The additional ambition to reduce cross-sectoral GHG emissions in the PA pathway leads to additional health benefits in most countries across the EU. On average and compared to the CL pathway, further reductions in air pollution lead to additional savings in annual health costs of 8 bn. € from 2030 onwards; for the LS pathway these savings are 4 bn. €, so only about half as much. This also indicates that more ambitious climate mitigation targets are further leading to additional co-benefits which may outbalance the cost of extra effort. In order to quantify this, a detailed cost-benefit-analysis should be carried out, which also comprises additional impact categories not part of this study such as comfort losses and life-cycle implications.

Variations by pathway

The push from active consumers in the LS pathway seems to result in a more favourable situation in 2020 and 2030 with most countries showing lower or similar impacts as in the PA pathway (Figure 23). With its higher ambitions for GHG reductions in 2050, the latter still leads to the lowest impacts across Europe in the years after 2030, resulting in overall lowest associated costs over the years. Overall, additional benefits in the form of reduced health impacts and additional costs seem to depend mainly on air quality improvements with regard to particles. All three pathways (CL, LS and PA) show similar levels of emissions of primary particles and precursors of secondary particles up until 2030 (see also message 8). The additional health benefits in the LS pathway are a result of reduced primary particles and NH3 due to a higher share of solar and ambient heat and lower utilization of biomass in the residential and commercial sector. In the PA, these emissions are even further reduced as the commercial and residential sector as well as industry are highly electrified as a result of utilizing biomass CCS in the power supply sector. These results highlight the critical role of biomass and its utilization not only in terms of climate change mitigation but also with regard to air quality. Depending on the sector and the respective technology used, biomass utilization can affect air quality positively or negatively. Sector integration and cross-sectoral mitigation targets are an important pillow to achieve additional co-benefits of air pollution control and ambitious GHG mitigation, which may outbalance the extra effort needed.

Health costs associated with air pollution on EU28 level for all pathways in the years 2020, 2030 and 2050. Figure 22. Health costs associated with air pollution on EU28 level for all pathways in the years 2020, 2030 and 2050.

Disability Adjusted Life Years
2020203020500550110016502200DALY (thousands)

Figure 23. DALYs on EU28 level for all pathways in the years 2020, 2030 and 2050.

Message 20: Central European countries profit the most from better air quality and health

When analysing the distribution of health impacts caused by air pollution from the EU28, CH and NO, not all countries profit from a cleaner energy system in this aspect. The principle of burden sharing in GHG reductions in combination with national targets seems to result in a re-distribution of emissions of air pollutants and thus related health impacts and associated costs from central Europe to south-eastern Europe, with Greece showing an increase of impacts over time, even if health costs of air pollution are considered in the decision making of a low-carbon pathway (Figure 24, CL pathway vs. Reference pathway). Central European countries such as Germany and Poland seem to profit the most, cutting their health impacts and also associated costs at least in half in 2050 compared to 2015. This spatial pattern is also noticeable for the other two pathways.

Variations by pathway

With the principle of burden sharing in GHG reductions in combination with national targets, not all countries profit from better air quality and health due to emission reductions. While some countries, such as Germany and Poland, show high reductions in exposure and attributable external costs - clearly identifying them as beneficiaries of climate change mitigation efforts within the European energy system - exposure to air pollution, related health impacts and attributable costs actually increase for other countries (Figure 24 and Figure 25). Note that associated costs in Figure 25 are allocated following the “Polluter Pays” principle including health costs in neighbouring countries whereas health impacts in Figure 24 only relate to their own exposed population. This includes exposure to emissions coming from neighbouring countries. In the Netherlands, health impacts only seem to increase in the middle years in the Reference pathway due to an increase in fuel oil consumption in navigation which is later replaced by diesel, still resulting in an actual reduction of health impacts and associated costs in 2050 compared to 2015. With the health costs considered in the CL pathway, diesel is used to meet the increasing demand in navigation from early years on, preventing increasing fuel oil use and thus health impacts. For other countries like Greece and Ireland, health impacts increase. Both countries also show increasing attributional costs, indicating that their own emissions of air pollutants increase as well. Similarly, Bulgaria and Slovakia are characterised by increased attributional costs in both pathways.

Additionally, countries like Germany, Poland and France can reduce their attributable costs due to health impacts across Europe more than health impacts among their own population. Because of their geographic location they seem to only have limited control over reducing actual health impacts in their own territories since these are affected greatly by emissions from neighbouring countries and long-range transport of air pollution. The large decrease of attributable cost in these counties in combination with the increase of these costs in Greece, Bulgaria and Slovakia also suggest that emissions of air pollutants are re-distributed. With a mix of burden sharing and national GHG reduction targets, reductions in emissions of air pollutants in central Europe seem to be at least partly achieved by shifting activities and related emissions to south-eastern Europe. Considering costs of health impacts in the optimising, leads to an even more decisive decrease in health impacts as well as attributable costs in Germany and Poland in the CL pathway, triggering additional reductions of air pollution and related impacts in these countries. This also means that most of the potential cost savings can be attributed to reducing health impacts in only few countries.

Similarly, not all countries seem to benefit equally from cleaner air in the LS and PA pathway (Figure 24 and Figure 25). In comparison to the CL pathway, most countries show similar levels of health impacts and associated costs up until 2030. From 2030 on, all countries except for the Netherlands and Spain seem to profit from additional improvements in air quality. In both the LS and the PA pathway, the Netherlands show higher emissions of particulate matter from transport (incl. navigation) and Spain has higher NOX emissions in industry leading to worse air quality. The biggest profiteers from better air quality in these two pathways are distributed across Europe with Belgium, Germany, France, Greece, Italy and Poland all showing lower health impacts in 2050 than in the CL pathway. These countries are also showing the biggest annual savings in associated costs, which are allocated according to the “Polluter Pays” principle. This means that the additional benefits from better air quality in both the LS and the PA pathway are only attributable to few EU Member States who are able to further reduce their emissions. Note that Greece still shows higher impacts and associated costs in 2050 than in 2015; the increase is just not as high as in the CL pathway.

The uneven distribution of health benefits across countries, with some countries even showing higher exposure in 2050 compared to 2015, may lead to conflicts between pan-European climate mitigation policy and national or even local air quality plans. Additionally, the role of trans-national impacts, i.e. impacts occurring in one country caused by emissions of another country, should not be underestimated. This highlights the necessity for a pan-European strategy to address climate change and air pollution simultaneously. With burden-sharing schemes and national targets aiming to achieve a common target across the EU, integrated policies are even more important.

Country-specific health impacts in DALY attributable to air pollution from the EU28, CH and NO for selected years. Figure 24. Country-specific health impacts in DALY attributable to air pollution from the EU28, CH and NO for selected years.

Country-specific costs of air pollution due to health impacts following the “polluter pays” principle for 2015, 2030 and 2050. Figure 25. Country-specific costs of air pollution due to health impacts following the “polluter pays” principle for 2015, 2030 and 2050.