Carnegie Mellon University
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Integrating Climate and Health Damages in Decision-Making for the Electric Power Sector

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posted on 2019-05-31, 20:19 authored by Brian SergiBrian Sergi
This dissertation explores the connection between the climate and health impacts of emissions, focusing primarily on the electric power sector. The combustion of fossil fuels is a critical source of carbon dioxide— the principal greenhouse gas driving climate change—and of conventional air pollutants that are detrimental to human health. In this work, we explore the connection between these impacts by examining their role in shaping public support for emissions reductions, by advancing methods for quantifying the health impacts of emissions, and by investigating the benefits of directly linking and co-optimizing for benefits related to these two impacts during the design of policies for emissions reductions. In Chapter 2, we conduct a U.S.-based discrete choice survey to explore the influence of climate and health information on respondents’ support for reducing emissions. We find that, on average, respondents value information on the climate and health impacts of emissions, and are willing to pay more for emissions reductions that target both health and climate benefits simultaneously than they are for scenarios that address only climate or health alone. Respondents also demonstrate that their support for renewable energy sources is largely driven by the perceived health and climate benefits those sources would provide. These findings highlight the importance of communicating these types of benefits when advancing emissions reductions or policies intended to further clean energy. We extend this line of questioning in Chapter 3, in which we conduct a similar survey among residents of ten Chinese cities. In addition to the survey structure from Chapter 2, we use observed air quality data from the locations of the respondents to explore whether air pollution at different time-scales (e.g. hourly, daily, or annual averages) shows any relationship with preferences for emissions reductions. As with the U.S.-based survey, the average respondent demonstrates a willingness to pay more in electricity bills for cleaner energy sources, and in particular sources that are expected to address both health and climate issues. While short-term air quality levels show no relationship with respondents’ support for emissions cuts, respondents in areas of historically worse air quality demonstrate substantially higher willingness to pay for reducing emissions to improve human health, suggesting the importance of awareness of long-term pollution trends to building support for emissions reductions. Having explored how the public interacts with information on the climate and health impacts of emissions, Chapter 4 sets out to evaluate the health effects of air pollution in the U.S. We use an integrated assessment model with reduced complexity air quality modeling and emissions data from 2008, 2011, and 2014 to estimate county-level ambient particulate matter concentrations, population exposure, and finally health consequences, with a focus on how the location of those consequences relate to the origin of emissions. We estimate that total health damages in the U.S. declined from 2008 to 2014, driven largely by the closure of point sources like coal power plants. Despite this, some counties incur increasing per capita health damages over that time period. Though decreasing slightly over time, a large share of health damages continues to be attributable to pollution originating in a different location from where the damages are incurred, implying a sustained need for integrated and transboundary approaches to managing air pollution. Finally, Chapter 5 builds on the previous work by examining how estimates of the health impacts of emissions might be incorporated into the design of policies intended to address climate change for the electric power sector. Using data on the existing fossil fuel fleet and information on the marginal damage of pollution from the analysis in Chapter 4, we investigate how changing the location of power plant retirements and emissions reductions might achieve the same climate goals while maximizing health benefits. We find that using health to inform which plants retire and are replaced by natural gas can increase health benefits by close to one-third while incurring relatively incremental mitigation costs. These gains are in addition to the substantial health benefits achieved by a climate-only approach and are fairly robust to uncertainty and subjective parameter decisions. Policy makers might incorporate these findings by more directly considering the health implications of different pathways for achieving climate targets.




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Engineering and Public Policy

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Inês Azevedo