EU Science Hub

Ambitious policy action needed to reduce air pollution in Arctic Council countries

–°ouple of tourists admire the view of the Sakrisoy village and snowy mountaines on background.
Apr 29 2021

A new report, launched by the JRC and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) calls for ambitious policy action to reduce air pollution in Arctic Council countries (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States), highlighting the environmental, health, and economic benefits of air quality improvements.

The Arctic is a vital region that helps preserve the balance of the global climate. The Arctic environment is particularly sensitive to short-lived climate pollutants, due to their strong warming effect. In particular, black carbon, which is the most light-absorbing component of particulate matter (PM2.5), not only contributes to the negative impacts of air pollution on human health, but is also a major contributor to Arctic warming. Black carbon emissions mostly come from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuel, biofuel and biomass in the residential, transport and industry sectors.

In this context, the Arctic Council countries have established policy action to reduce their black carbon emissions, setting an aspirational collective 2025 target of lowering black carbon emissions by 25 %-33 % from 2013 levels.

Costs

Substantial economic benefits would result from these ambitious policies, through improvements in labour and agricultural productivity and lower health expenditures. These economic benefits offset the costs of investing in improved technologies. The net macroeconomic effects vary by country: they are marginally positive and close to zero in the United States, Canada and Nordic countries, though by 2050 Nordic countries incur a small GDP loss. In Russia, where there is most scope for technological improvements, the net GDP effects are slightly negative, but still less than 0.2 % of GDP.

Health benefits

The air quality improvements could see 4 out of 10 air-pollution related deaths in Arctic Council countries avoided by 2050, as well as thousands of cases of debilitating illnesses, such as chronic bronchitis and childhood asthma.

The welfare benefits of reduced mortality and illness are projected to reach USD 290 billion by 2050 for Arctic Council countries.

In addition to the many benefits from air pollution policies included in the modelling, there are many others benefits that could not be quantified. These include health effects on fertility, cognitive abilities and birth weight. Furthermore, as observed during the COVID-19 crisis, improvements in air quality can also reduce the severity of respiratory diseases. Taken together, this suggests that the benefits of air pollution policies could be even greater than those quantified in the analysis.

A call for international action

By reducing a wide range of air pollutants, the Arctic Council countries would obtain far-reaching health and climate benefits, while also helping to slow down and reduce the effects of climate change in the Arctic and at the global level.

The results of the report show that policy action addressing air pollution in Arctic Council countries could lead to significant environmental, health and welfare benefits. In addition, improvements to the local climate in the Arctic can improve the livelihood of local communities and reduce global climate change.

There would be additional health and environmental benefits in Arctic Council countries if other regions in the world scaled up their air pollution policy action. Emission reductions in Observer countries, which include other European countries as well as China and India, could be especially beneficial for the Nordic countries and Russia. Black carbon particles reaching the Arctic are also likely to decrease, helping to mitigate local climate change.