Include Co-Benefits As Well As Costs When Formulating Climate Policies

March 27, 2019 by Cassandra Ceballos


Climate change has entered the forefront of national dialogue. In government, in organizations, and across sectors, people are talking about climate change. Systems thinking suggests that conversations about climate policy and climate action will be most productive if they are based on a full accounting of the costs and benefits of particular actions. However, too often decision makers work with only a partial picture, one that focuses more on costs rather than potential benefits.

For a few years now, the Multisolving Program has tracked research efforts that measure co-benefits of climate action. We’ve shared some of what we found in talks and research reports. Now, we are also compiling some of the most compelling examples in a document for others to use in conversations about climate policy and in advocacy for bolder and more ambitious climate investments.

Below are two examples we pulled from the list to give you a flavor of just how broad and far-reaching the co-benefits of climate action can be:

Take green buildings, for example. A report published in Nature last year analyzed the cumulative climate and health impacts from 2000 to 2016 of LEED-certified buildings, which substantially reduce energy consumption, in six countries. The results were astonishing. In the US alone, researchers calculated $6.7B and $1.28B in savings from reduced energy consumption and climate impacts, respectively.

Additionally, the US avoided an average of: 171 hospital admissions, 11,000 exacerbated asthma cases, 21,000 lost days of work, 16,000 missed days of school, and 54,000 incidences of negative respiratory symptoms. These direct health benefits amounted to $2.68B in savings.

Policies centered on scaling up and/or improving infrastructure for non-motorized transportation (walking and biking) are cost-effective, create multiple benefits, have zero emissions, and save lives. In 2005, the NYC Department of Transportation used $10 million in funding from the federal Safe Routes to School program to build new sidewalks and bicycle lanes, improve safety at crossings, and upgrade signage at schools with the highest reported injury rates.

Researchers evaluated the long-term effects of the program in a 2014 American Journal of Public Health article and found that the $10 million infrastructure modifications saved $230 million in health costs. The avoided expenditures came from increased physical activity, reduced air pollution, and a 33-44% decrease in injury rates for school-aged children (14% for the overall population). For a country dubbed the most dangerous wealthy nation in the world for cyclists, these numbers are very promising.

At Climate Interactive, our mission is to help people see what works to address climate change and related issues. That mission depends on making tools and information accessible to any individual in any part of the world. The examples described above are just two of innumerable options that exist today to shape the world of tomorrow.