Energy efficiency improvement (EEI) actions can help to reduce energy consumption and improve air quality. Our energy systems mainly rely on fossil fuels. Fossil fuel combustion is not only the principal cause of climate change, but also of air pollution. Fossil fuels are burned for the production of space heat energy, for hot water provision, as fuel for transportation and for electricity production. As a result, not only greenhouse gases, but also air pollutants are emitted that alter air quality. Urban areas suffer the most due to concentration of fossil fuel-burning activities; however, rural areas are also affected due to atmospheric transport of air pollutants.
Human health effects arise as a result of short and long-term exposures to various pollutants, and take the form of respiratory, cardiovascular diseases, negative prenatal and developmental outcomes. Ecosystem effects relate mainly to the deposition of acidifying, eutrophying air pollutants and to the exposure to ground-level ozone. Their effects include reduced agricultural harvests, inhibited functioning and restrained growth of natural ecosystems, disturbance in the ecological balance of water ecosystems. Some building materials are also susceptible to acidifying pollutants that erode building structures.
Although significant air quality improvements have been achieved in the last decades in Europe, air pollution is most probably still the single largest environmental threat to human health in Europe. Fossil fuels are the main primary energy source in Europe; fossil fuel combustion causes both – climate change and air pollution. Therefore, climate change mitigation policies are likely to have implications for air pollution policies and vice versa. In COMBI the potential of energy efficiency improvement actions is studied in delivering air pollution co-benefits stemming from the sectors of residential and tertiary housing, transport and industry. Air pollution affects negatively human health causing acute and chronic effects and ecosystem health causing acidification and eutrophication.
The GAINS model (Greenhouse Gas – Air Pollution Interactions and Synergies model) was used to quantify the extent of air pollution damage in 2015 and 2030, and the avoided extent of air pollution damage in 2030 due to accelerated energy efficiency interventions (COMBI efficiency scenario resulting from 21 energy efficiency improvement actions).
Annual impacts that can be achieved by COMBI EEI actions in the EU28:
- additional 10 805 premature deaths avoided due to reduced exposure to particulate matter (PM2.5)
- additional 442 deaths would be avoided due to reduced exposure to ground level ozone
- avoided life expectancy loss due to PM2.5 exposure around 230 000 YOLLs
- additional 4.4 thousand km2 would de spared from acidification
- additional 13.3 thousand km2 would be spared from eutrophication
- In monetary terms, the value of avoidable mortality may amount to 460 million EUR due to PM2.5 and 46 million EUR due to ground level ozone in the year 2030 for the EU-28.
- The value of avoided life expectancy loss would stand at immense 26 billion EUR in 2030 for the EU-28
– note: as with all impacts, these are incremental values, difference between the two scenarios of the year 2030.