Five new reports bring human health to the forefront of the climate mitigation conversation in an attempt to empower communities and decision makers to consider local impacts when deciding on low-carbon infrastructure.
“It’s really an effort to move the discussions forward and see how infrastructure not only has the benefit of reducing emissions, but actually improves the health of the community,” said Aline Coutinho, associate researcher at the Smart Prosperity Institute and author of two of the reports.
One of those reports identifies the health impacts of exposure to contaminated air and water and found that the most significant health benefits will likely come from addressing air pollution.
Reducing air pollution can reduce the incidence of death from all causes, according to the report, and many of these pollutants are linked to the very emissions that Canada seeks to reduce.
In Canada, Alberta, and Saskatchewan have high levels of sulfur dioxide in the air, negatively affecting the cardiovascular, reproductive, respiratory, neurological, and gastrointestinal systems.
Because this pollutant comes primarily from burning fossil fuels, switching to renewable energy sources and cleaner fuels can help limit sulfur dioxide levels and improve human health.
This means that “we should not think that one policy or one project will have the same impact on health across Canada,” Coutinho said, adding that when deciding on infrastructure projects, place-based context is critical.
For instance, another report found that the health and environmental benefits of installing solar or wind generating capacity in Calgary were eight to 10 times higher than in other cities.
“Many of the health and greenhouse gas (GHG) benefits of a given project are tied to what that project replaces or displaces,” said John McNally, author of the report and principal investigator for Smart Prosperity. “Alberta’s grid has more coal and more natural gas than Ontario and Quebec, so when renewable energy is put into the grid, it reduces the combustion of those two fuels and the impact on greenhouse gases and human health. is older”.
We need to empower communities to decide which low-carbon infrastructure will be most beneficial to the health of their community, says @SP_Inst. #CleanFuture #Healthy Communities # Pollution # Emissions
In this report, the researchers selected five types of projects that reduce GHGs and looked at the impacts of building them in three different cities: Calgary, Québec City, and Kitchener-Waterloo.
The idea was to see what benefits would come from $ 100 million in energy efficiency renovations for residential buildings, energy efficiency renovations for commercial buildings, installation of solar or wind generation capacity, zero-emission on-road and zero-emission public transportation vehicles. . -Personal vehicle emissions on the road.
In all three cities, modernization of residential buildings and investments in transit provided the highest level of benefits because they lead to large reductions in greenhouse gases and particulates, according to the report.
Because the source of emissions and air pollutants varies by region, it’s important to look at how to achieve the greatest health and environmental benefits locally, rather than just focusing on large emissions, McNally said.
He said that some regions may have less energy-efficient homes because the province’s building codes are not as strict as in other parts of the country, meaning there could be large reductions possible through modifications.
“It’s important for communities to think about these things because it means they can direct spending where it will have the greatest impact based on their own respective greenhouse gas emissions profile,” he said.
But the work required to identify these health benefits requires a lot of time and advanced knowledge of air quality models, making it inaccessible to most people, McNally said.
Other report Coutinho and McNally wrote together to try to address this problem by simplifying the processes for making air quality estimates so that communities can analyze pollutants locally to advocate for climate solutions that will directly benefit people in their region.
It’s a start, but McNally says the federal government should also prioritize creating these simplified tools for communities as Canada moves toward its net zero ambitions.
Going forward, McNally said he wants the research to focus on “how building some of these projects can support equity and, more importantly, if there are ways in which policy should be designed or can be targeted. the expenses to ensure that you really get that eco-friendly and inclusive result. “
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer