The objective of climate change mitigation is global but most of the benefits are felt at the local level
Climate change is a global problem, being felt locally and disproportionately. In the same vein, we have only two options but we can't make any choice. We rather need to implement both and simultaneously. One is related to enhancing our resilience and capacity to adapt to the changing climate now and in the future. The other is to mitigate the gases that contribute to the human-induced climate change. As impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly evident, backed by scientific findings, different countries have embarked on policy measures to address both adaptation and mitigation, to a varying degree.
While both adaptation and mitigation have co-benefits, I would expatiate only on mitigation in this piece and would keep adaptation for another piece in future. Greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation projects are often treated as costly endeavors and therefore treated as low priority interventions compared to other development goals. However, if one delves deeper into the impacts of climate change mitigation, the desirability of having them would only increase for some obvious reasons, some of which I will harp on.
Around seven million people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), die every year in the world due to air pollution - both ambient and indoor. The ambient air quality is linked to several factors but is significantly influenced by the types of energy used for industries, transportation and other purposes. Switching to clean energy as such would not only lead to GHG mitigation but also improve air quality.
In the Bangladeshi context, 123,000 people died only in 2017, as reported in the State of Global Air 2019, attributable to indoor and outdoor air pollution. One of the reasons behind such high number of deaths is the highly polluting traditional brick kilns, which are several thousands in number and run on coal. Kiln operators even use wood and tyre along with coal to burn green bricks. Some of the cities in the country experience exceedingly high level of particulate matters, especially during the dry season, due to these brick kilns. They are highly energy inefficient and emit several million tons of CO2 per annum.
Energy efficiency improvement of thousands of such kilns would result in significant GHG mitigation and bring environmental benefits, such as, air quality improvement. Nevertheless, replacing a traditional kiln with energy efficient one necessitates very high upfront investment. Assessing the cost-benefit of such investment in light of climate change mitigation would not make the business case super attractive, but factoring air quality improvement and health benefits would do.
Indoor air pollution is another area of concern, both in Bangladesh and other developing countries. Unclean cooking systems, predominantly used in rural areas, contribute to such pollution. Despite the initiatives taken globally, 2.8 billion people, reportedly, don't have access to clean cooking fuels and/or improved cooking stove. Improved cooking stove is often seen from the perspective of climate change mitigation. Yet, these stoves have several attributes, for instance, they reduce fuel consumption and thus help people save cost. Generally, women and girls are entrusted with the responsibility of cooking food and they are the ones, as a result, who fall victim to unclean and inefficient cooking related indoor air pollution. To this end, clean and improved cooking systems bring life-saving benefits for women and girls apart from delivering economic dividends and GHG mitigation.
Investing in clean energy and energy efficiency is one of the cornerstones for achieving global as well as country specific climate goals. At the national level, by exploiting renewable energies, which are highly cost competitive now, a country can reduce dependence on fuel imports and thereby, enhance energy security. Along with limiting carbon emissions, clean energies help curb air pollution.
Energy efficiency also brings multitude of benefits other than only producing net emission reductions. Notably, without the global pursuit for energy efficiency improvement, energy consumption in the world, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) mentioned in its report, would have been 12 percent higher than what was reportedly consumed in 2017. This saved energy is equivalent to the energy consumption of the European Union.
Reduced demand minimizes reliance on imports of oil, gas and coal, leading to energy security, both in short and medium terms. Bangladesh, for example, can be greatly benefited by embarking on energy efficiency measures to lessen burgeoning energy problems vis-à-vis the rising trajectory of fuel imports of all types.
Like renewable energy, efficiency improvement has a paramount role in increasing access to energy in emerging and developing economies. Millions of people globally are still out of reach of national electricity grids and energy efficiency on supply and demand sides can help support additional consumers with existing generation.
Energy efficiency, furthermore, provides a range of benefits, i.e., improves indoor and outdoor air quality by reducing concentrations of air pollutants. Energy efficiency in buildings, moreover, lead to better health and wellbeing of the occupants.
As analyzed in the preceding, the objective of climate change mitigation is global but most of the benefits are felt at local level. In other words, the goal of mitigation is to help stabilise greenhouse gas emissions to a level in the long run that would leave a safe planet to our future generations but the accompanying benefits, such as improved air quality, wellbeing, energy security and others, would be enjoyed now at national levels where the actual GHG mitigation measures are taken place. While ideally the full range of cost and benefits of any climate change mitigation project should be taken into account, we perhaps narrowly consider the cost of GHG mitigation, i.e., cost per unit of CO2 abatement. We do the same while taking a decision on whether to go ahead with a municipal waste to energy project by only considering cost per KWh of energy. However, the assessment should be other way round to incorporate the benefits of reducing air pollution and related health impacts, increasing energy access and energy security etc. In fact, we need to see beyond climate change mitigation and think GHG mitigation, air pollution abatement, health and other benefits as linked.
The author is an engineer and environmental economist. He is a former International Climate Protection Fellow of Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany, and currently a Senior Advisor to an International Development Agency.