Articles | Volume 16, issue 15
Research article
01 Aug 2016
Research article |  | 01 Aug 2016

Co-benefits of global and regional greenhouse gas mitigation for US air quality in 2050

Yuqiang Zhang, Jared H. Bowden, Zachariah Adelman, Vaishali Naik, Larry W. Horowitz, Steven J. Smith, and J. Jason West

Abstract. Policies to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will not only slow climate change but can also have ancillary benefits of improved air quality. Here we examine the co-benefits of both global and regional GHG mitigation for US air quality in 2050 at fine resolution, using dynamical downscaling methods, building on a previous global co-benefits study (West et al., 2013). The co-benefits for US air quality are quantified via two mechanisms: through reductions in co-emitted air pollutants from the same sources and by slowing climate change and its influence on air quality, following West et al. (2013). Additionally, we separate the total co-benefits into contributions from domestic GHG mitigation vs. mitigation in foreign countries. We use the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model to dynamically downscale future global climate to the regional scale and the Sparse Matrix Operator Kernel Emissions (SMOKE) program to directly process global anthropogenic emissions to the regional domain, and we provide dynamical boundary conditions from global simulations to the regional Community Multi-scale Air Quality (CMAQ) model. The total co-benefits of global GHG mitigation from the RCP4.5 scenario compared with its reference are estimated to be higher in the eastern US (ranging from 0.6 to 1.0 µg m−3) than the west (0–0.4 µg m−3) for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), with an average of 0.47 µg m−3 over the US; for O3, the total co-benefits are more uniform at 2–5 ppb, with a US average of 3.55 ppb. Comparing the two mechanisms of co-benefits, we find that reductions in co-emitted air pollutants have a much greater influence on both PM2.5 (96 % of the total co-benefits) and O3 (89 % of the total) than the second co-benefits mechanism via slowing climate change, consistent with West et al. (2013). GHG mitigation from foreign countries contributes more to the US O3 reduction (76 % of the total) than that from domestic GHG mitigation only (24 %), highlighting the importance of global methane reductions and the intercontinental transport of air pollutants. For PM2.5, the benefits of domestic GHG control are greater (74 % of total). Since foreign contributions to co-benefits can be substantial, with foreign O3 benefits much larger than those from domestic reductions, previous studies that focus on local or regional co-benefits may greatly underestimate the total co-benefits of global GHG reductions. We conclude that the US can gain significantly greater domestic air quality co-benefits by engaging with other nations to control GHGs.

Short summary
Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can also improve air quality. We estimate the co-benefits of global GHG mitigation for US air quality in 2050 at fine resolution by downscaling from a previous global study. Foreign GHG mitigation under RCP4.5 contributes more to the US O3 reduction (76 % of the total) than domestic mitigation and contributes 26 % of the PM2.5 reduction. Therefore, the US gains significantly greater air quality co-benefits by coordinating GHG controls internationally.
Final-revised paper