DISES: Multi-scale modeling of interactions between climate change, air quality, and social inequalities

  • Budolfson, Mark (PI)
  • Scovronick, Noah (CoPI)
  • Peng, Wei (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Air pollutants and greenhouse gases share emission sources, including through the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas). Therefore, climate policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases will produce the 'co-benefit' of also reducing air pollution, which is responsible for millions of deaths per year globally. However, little is known about how these co-benefits in air quality are likely to be distributed across populations, and how this distribution depends on choices between leading climate policy options. As one example, electrifying the transport sector will likely have much different implications for populations living near major roads – often disproportionately minorities and people of lower socioeconomic status – compared to a policy focusing on power plants. No systematic research has yet quantified these relationships and it is unclear which ways of pursuing climate policy will best achieve society's health and equity objectives. This project will investigate these complex socio-environmental dynamics through a two-step process. First, the co-benefits of different climate policies as related to air quality will be estimated, along with how those policies will differentially impact health across socioeconomic subpopulations. Then that information will be used to examine how climate policy decisions may be optimized using models that include other aspects of the broader system, such as economic and demographic change, as well as the impacts of climate change itself.

The human system and the atmospheric system are inextricably linked. Humans produce emissions, emissions alter the atmosphere, and the atmosphere in turn affects society, for example through exposure to air or water pollution, property damage from storms and wildfires, and impacts on agricultural yields and ecosystems. The level of anthropogenic emissions is modifiable through policy choices, which are themselves a complex output of interactions between social and ethical subsystems. This project will model the dynamics of this highly integrated system, with a focus on feedbacks between climate policy, air quality, and equity. The air quality 'co-benefits' of climate policy are important because of their policy relevance, given that these benefits are large, begin immediately, and occur locally. These impacts will not be uniform across regions in space or time, and so it is important to determine how climate action might alleviate or exacerbate existing inequalities in air pollution exposure. These relationships will be examined through novel air quality modeling and improvements to leading cost-benefit climate policy models. The goals are to : [1] Conduct multi-scale modeling to determine how air quality will change as a result of different climate policies, and how those changes will differentially impact socioeconomic subpopulations within cities, regions and countries; [2] Incorporate the newly estimated relationships into leading climate policy models; [3] Analyze optimal policy relative to different objectives that society might endorse. These objectives have numerous broader impacts that include reducing income inequality, alleviating health disparities, ensuring equitable burden sharing between nations, and intergenerational justice.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date10/1/182/28/26


  • National Science Foundation: $1,513,258.00


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