From climate change’s impact on health disparity to air pollution’s outsized impact on human health and the benefits of tax credits and grid expansion to boosting renewable energy and lowering electricity prices, EPIC faculty research has shed new light on some of the most crucial topics in energy this year.
Often times, these insights are best illustrated through data presented in easy-to-digest charts. Here are ten of our favorites from 2022.
#1 – Climate Change will Widen Health Disparity Between Rich and Poor
Projected Global Mortality Impacts Under High Emissions Scenario (RCP 8.5), Mean Outcome
Note: Each line represents a country or territory’s mean projected change in annual death rates due to climate change’s impact on daily temperature, compared to a future world without climate change. Bold orange line represents Pakistan during each time period. Bold purple line represents Canada during each time period.
Source: Human Climate Horizons (horizons.hdr.undp.org), UNDP/Climate Impact Lab, November 2022
The Human Climate Horizons platform, launched by the EPIC-affiliated Climate Impact Lab and the UN Development Programme, shows climate change will exacerbate inequalities by the end of the century. Those less able to adapt through means like air conditioning see the greatest damages, with the death rate increasing (orange) for nearly three-quarters of the world’s Least Developed Countries. Pakistan, for example, could see its death rate increase by 189 deaths per 100,000 under a high emissions scenario compared to a world without climate change—three times Pakistan’s rate of cancer deaths. Even if Paris pledges were met, the death rate would increase by 62 deaths per 100,000, on par with strokes. Meanwhile, 65 percent of G20 nations see improvements in the death rate (purple).
#2 – Particulate Pollution is the Greatest Threat to Human Health Globally, Yet Funding to Tackle the Problem Lags
Life Expectancy Impact of PM2.5 and Unassociated Causes/Risks of Death, Global
Source: 2022 Annual Update, Air Quality Life Index, June 2022; State of Global Air Quality Funding, Clean Air Fund, 2021 and 2022; Data accessed from theglobalfund.org in November 2022
Measured in terms of life expectancy, particulate pollution is consistently the world’s greatest risk to human health, shows the Air Quality Life Index. Its impact on life expectancy is comparable to that of smoking, more than three times that of alcohol and unsafe water and sanitation, six times that of HIV/AIDS, and 89 times that of conflict and terrorism. Yet, our investment in tackling air pollution lags far behind the scale of the problem. Globally, estimated annual funding to support cleaner air totals $158.09 million. This is in sharp contrast to other health threats such as HIV/AIDS and Malaria. After decades of successful efforts, HIV/AIDS and Malaria now have a smaller impact on global life expectancy than pollution, but still receive 45 times and 13.5 times more financial support, respectively.
#3 – The Climate Benefits from Clean Energy Tax Credits are About Four Times the Costs
Costs and Climate Benefits of the Tax Incentives
Note: The value of gross benefits of tax incentives as captured by $51, $121, and $250 SCC. Net benefits are $205-245B under $51 SCC, $436-581B under $121 SCC, and $1-1.5T under $250 SCC, depending on the cost scenario. Gross benefits and costs are presented in 2020 USD, discounted at 2%, and year-specific SCC is applied.
Source: Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Clean Electricity Tax Credits, February 2022
Tax credits to boost clean energy deployment were an important part of the Inflation Reduction Act. EPIC and Rhodium Group compared the costs and benefits. The credits are expected to reduce carbon emissions by 5.1 to 8.1 billion metric tons by 2050. Using various estimates of the social cost of carbon (SCC)—the monetized damages of an additional metric ton of CO2—these reductions would translate to $335 billion to $1.8 trillion in benefits, depending on technology costs. On the cost side, the incentives would increase operating costs for electricity generation and require start-up costs for the government to fund them, ranging from $130 billion to $309 billion. Therefore, the benefits from reduced carbon emissions alone are roughly 3-4 times greater than the costs, under central benefit estimates.
#4 – Sea Level Rise Will Cost the Global Economy Trillions Without Efforts to Adapt
Total Annual Cost by 2100, RCP8.5
Source: DSCIM-Coastal v1.0: An Open-Source Modeling Platform for Global Impacts of Sea Level Rise, EGUsphere, May 2022
Hurricane Ian’s devastation underscores the challenge coastal communities will face with climate change. While storm surge will be an important factor, “sunny day flooding” during high tides will also increase as sea levels rise. The Climate Impact Lab is helping communities assess the costs of these impacts and the benefits of adaptation investments such as installing sea walls and levees or simply moving away from endangered coasts. Their research finds that if countries fail to both meet Paris pledges and take steps to adapt to sea level rise, this would cost the global economy $6 to $7.7 trillion per year by 2100, or 12.7 percent of global GDP. Taking steps to adapt would reduce costs to $320 to $1.1 trillion, just 0.4 percent of GDP.
#5 – Grid Expansion Levels and Reduces Electricity Costs While Boosting Renewables
Impacts of Market Integrations on Spatial Variation in Electricity Prices
Source: The Dynamic Impact of Market Integration: Evidence from Renewable Energy Expansion in Chile, BFI Working Paper, May 2022
The 2021 Infrastructure Act contains significant investments to expand the nation’s transmission lines. As the Biden administration uses this funding to help carry renewable energy to new parts of the country, a study by Harris Public Policy’s Koichiro Ito and his colleagues shows doing so lowers average electricity costs. Ito studied Chile, which had limited transmission capacity until 2017 when a transmission line was built to connect renewable-rich areas to demand centers. Before the transmission line, the average price of electricity in the renewable-rich region (like Atacama) was near zero, while it was very high in the highly populated region (like Santiago and Antofagasta). After the integration, solar power was able to be exported to high-demand regions, which resulted in a leveling off of prices across regions and a decrease in the average nationwide electricity cost.
#6 – Social Media Engagement Increases Government Action, Decreases Pollution
Increasing the Visibility of Appeals on Social Media Lead Regulators to Become More Responsive
Source: Does the Squeaky Wheel Get More Grease? The Direct and Indirect Effects of Citizen Participation on Environmental Governance in China, BFI Working Paper, October 2022
Investigating whether citizen pressure could improve environmental enforcement and reduce pollution, EPIC’s Michael Greenstone, Shaoda Wang, and Guojun He, used citizen volunteers in China to send messages appealing for action after an industrial plant violation. The messages were sent both privately, through a government hotline or online messaging platform, and publicly, through the popular Twitter-like Chinese social media site Weibo. The researchers found that the social media appeals reduced violations by more than 60 percent, and decreased air and water pollution by 12.2 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively. Private appeals also led to improvements but by a lesser amount. When the visibility of the social media appeals increased, regulators were 40 percent more likely to reply and about 64 percent more likely to inspect the polluting plants.
#7 – Wildfire Emissions are Erasing California’s Climate Gains
California, GHG Emissions, Million Tons of C0₂-Equivalent
Note: Adapted from “One year of wildfires undid decades of California’s emissions policy,” The Economist, October 19, 2022. 2020 non-wildfire emissions are assumed to be equal to 2019.
Source: Up in Smoke: California’s Greenhouse Gas Reductions Could be Wiped Out by 2020 Wildfires, Environmental Pollution, October 2022
As wildfires raged in California again this summer, the damages are adding up. What is often ignored is that, fueled by climate change’s higher temperatures and drier conditions, the wildfires also contribute to climate change. An analysis by Harris Public Policy’s Amir Jina and his colleagues found the wildfires in 2020 alone make up 30 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions—the second largest source of emissions in the state behind only the transportation sector. These emissions are erasing California’s emissions gains. Between 2003 and 2019, the state’s emissions fell by 13 percent, preventing 65 million tonnes of emissions. But in 2020, a single fire season emitted almost twice as much, 127 million tonnes.
#8 – Clean Energy Tax Credits Reduce Emissions and Lower Electricity Prices
Comparing U.S. Emission-Reduction Policies and Electricity Prices
Note: Adapted from “Clean energy subsidies could offer best bang for our buck, study says,” Cipher, August 3, 2022
Source: Carbon Pricing, Clean Electricity Standards, and Clean Electricity Subsidies on the Path to Zero Emissions, BFI Working Paper, July 2022
While many economists believe a carbon price is the most efficient way to reduce emissions, the Inflation Reduction Act instead significantly invested in clean energy tax credits. Harris Public Policy’s Ryan Kellogg, and his colleague Severin Borenstein, compared the approaches within the electricity sector, where utilities markup retail prices. Carbon pricing reduces emissions but further increases retail prices. Clean energy subsidies counteract the markups by making clean energy cheaper. At the same time, while a carbon price pushes out the dirtiest fossil fuel plants first, clean energy tax credits push out fossil fuel plants that are most expensive first. With high coal prices, the dirtiest tend to be the most expensive. So, subsidies can counteract retail utility markups while being equally as effective as carbon pricing in reducing emissions.
#9 – Using Smart Meters to Enforce Water Restrictions Reduces Water Use, But Also Increases Community Complaints
Effect of Automated Enforcement on Monthly Water Use and Probability of Calling Customer Service
Note: This figure plots the regression-adjusted difference between households in the automated and non-automated group.
Source: Source: Man vs. Machine: Technological Promise and Political Limits of Automated Regulation Enforcement, BFI Working Paper, November 2022
As the Western United States faces its worst mega-drought in more than a millennium, local leaders need to identify effective ways to conserve water. Researchers at EPIC’s affiliated Energy & Environment Lab followed the roll-out of a pilot program using smart meter data to enforce water restrictions in one California city. The use of the data increased the share of households fined from 0.1 percent previously to 14 percent under the new system. Seeing they were now getting caught and fined, households were more likely to comply with the water rules, leading to a 17 percent drop in violations and a 3 percent decline in water use. However, more fines also led to more complaints—a 1,102 percent increase over three months. This led officials to end the program, suggesting that policymakers will need to gradually introduce new technologies and careful calibrate community expectations.
#10 – China has Quickly and Sharply Reduced Pollution Since Enacting Strict Policies
PM2.5 Concentrations in Major Regions in Mainland China Over Time
Note: PRD stands for Pearl River Delta. YRD stands for Yangtze River Delta. BTH stands for Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei.
Source: The 2008 Olympics to the 2022 Olympics: China’s Fight to Win its War Against Pollution, Air Quality Life Index, February 2022
China remains a beacon of progress in the global fight against air pollution. After declaring a “war against pollution” and allocating substantial public resources to combating pollution in 2014, China’s particulate pollution declined by 39.6 percent by 2020, adding about 2 years onto average life expectancy, assuming these reductions are sustained. Beijing experienced the largest decline with concentrations falling from 85 to 38 μg/m3 in just seven years—a 55 percent decline—adding 4.6 years onto lives, if sustained. To place China’s impact into context, it took several decades and recessions for the United States and Europe to achieve the same pollution reductions that China was able to accomplish in 7 years, even as it continued to grow its economy.