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Long-term Greenhouse Gas Emissions Mitigation in California and the Associated Regional Air Quality and Public Health Impacts

  • Author(s): Wang, Tianyang
  • Advisor(s): Zhu, Yifang
  • et al.

In this dissertation we investigate the roadmap for California to achieve deep greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions by 2050 and the resulting regional air quality and public health impacts, form the strategy feasibility and selections that achieves different levels of ambitious climate target, to the benefits and trade-offs of different technology pathways with respect to air quality and public health consequences, as well as the relative contributions of emissions from different origins to regional air quality and public health.

We first develop a roadmap for California to achieve net-zero GHG emissions in 2050 using detailed modeling of energy system transformation, cross-sectorial connectivity, and technology applicability. GHG mitigation strategies also reduce co-emitted criteria pollutants in California. By utilizing the Weather Research and Forecasting Model with Chemistry (WRF-Chem) and the Environmental Benefit Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP), we find that achieving net-zero GHG emissions can reduce 14,066 (95% Confidence Interval: 10,855 - 17,226) air pollution-related mortality in 2050, 35% of which are in disadvantaged communities. The monetized health co-benefit can offset most of the GHG abatement costs (i.e., 26 –116 billion dollars). These co-benefits are mainly contributed by ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentration reductions, while ambient ozone (O3) concentration in California is not likely to drop when local emissions reduce. The net-zero target also requires bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) technology to offset some GHG emissions. BECCS technology, whereas supporting the net-zero target, would emit air pollutants through biomass combustion and reduce health co-benefits by 3 billion dollars, suggesting a potential trade-off between climate benefits and health co-benefits of ambitious climate policies.

We then analyze the air quality and health impacts of different GHG mitigation pathways. By adopting an integrated approach that combines energy and emission technology modeling, high-resolution chemical transport simulation, and health impact assessment, we find that achievement of the 80% GHG reduction target would always bring substantial air quality and health co-benefits. But more importantly, the level of co-benefits are highly related to the selected technology pathway largely because of California’s relatively clean energy structure. Compared with the business-as-usual levels, a decarbonization pathway that focuses on electrification and clean renewable energy is estimated to reduce concentrations of PM2.5 by 18-37% in four major metropolitan areas of California and subsequently avoid 10,196 (95% CI: 8,169-12,202) premature deaths. In contrast, a pathway focusing more on combustible renewable fuels only results in a quarter of such air quality and health benefits. Similar to what we found before, both GHG mitigation pathways may not reduce ambient O3 concentrations in California. Our findings could also assist the development of optimized technology pathway to simultaneously reduce GHG emissions and improve human health in California.

Lastly, we conduct a detailed analysis to understand the relative contributions of local and non-local emission sources to ambient PM2.5 and O3 and evaluate the mortality burden in California associated with these two pollutants. We attribute the ambient PM2.5 and O3 concentrations in California to four emission groups: (1) California in-state anthropogenic emissions; (2) anthropogenic emissions from the western United States, excluding California; (3) natural emissions from the western United States; and (4) all emissions from outside of the western United States. Our health impact analyses find that PM2.5 and O3 are associated with 27,445 [95% Confidence Interval (CI): 19,277 – 35,885] and 13,822 (95% CI: 6,106-23,659) mortalities in California in 2012, respectively. Our estimates of O3-assocoated mortality are much higher than previously reported, mainly because we estimate 6,354 (95% CI 2,224 – 10,268) O3-associated cardiovascular mortality based on new epidemiological evidence. Approximately 67% of PM2.5-associated mortality in California is attributable to PM2.5 from in-state anthropogenic emissions. In contrast, 75% of the ambient O3 in California is contributed by distant emissions outside western United States, leading to 92% of O3-associated mortality, while in-state emissions were found to contribute to a much lesser extent to O3-associated mortality [i.e., 771 (95% CI 389-1,146) in ozone season]. The different patterns of PM2.5 and O3 we found also help explain our previous findings that GHG mitigation efforts in California mainly reduce local PM2.5 pollution.

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