Co-benefits of climate change mitigation;
active lifestyle, benefits to wildlife and the natural environment, economic development and employment, air quality, energy access, urban resilience and decarbonisation

Co-benefits of climate change mitigation are the benefits related to mitigation measures which reduce greenhouse gas emissions or enhance carbon sinks.

From an economic perspective, co-benefits can enhance increased employment through carbon tax revenues and the implementation of renewable energy.[1][2] A higher share of renewables can additionally lead to more energy security.[3] Socioeconomic co-benefits have been analysed such as energy access in rural areas and improved rural livelihoods.[4][5]

Apart from climate protection, mitigation policies can foster additional ecological co-benefits but also risks with regards to soil conservation, fertility, biodiversity and wildlife habitat.[6][7] Further, mitigation policies bear opportunities for capacity building, participation and forest governance for local communities.[5]


In general, the term co-benefits refers to "simultaneously meeting several interests or objectives resulting from a political intervention, private sector investment or a mix thereof". Opportunistic co-benefits appear as auxiliary or side effect while focusing on a central objective or interest. Strategic co-benefits result from a deliberate effort to seizing several opportunities (e.g., economic, business, social, environmental) with a single purposeful intervention."[8]

Co-benefits, also often referred to as ancillary benefits, have been addressed in scientific literature and were firstly dominated by studies that describe how lower GHG emissions lead to better air quality and consequently impact human health positively.[9][10][11] The scope of co-benefits research expanded to its economic, social, ecological and political implications.

Main co-benefits for people

How mitigation is carried out will likely determine its impacts on living standards, as well as future levels of inequality and poverty.[12]

Clean air

Climate change mitigation policies can lead to lower emissions of co-emitted air pollutants, for instance by shifting away from fossil fuel combustion. In addition, gases such as black carbon and methane contribute both to global warming and to air pollution, such that their mitigation can bring benefits in terms of limiting global temperature increases as well as improving air quality.[13] Implementation of the climate pledges made in the run-up to the Paris Agreement could therefore have significant benefits for human health by improving air quality.[14] The replacement of coal-based energy with renewables can lower the number of premature deaths caused by air pollution. A higher share of renewable energy and consequently less coal-related respiratory diseases can decrease health costs.[15]

Active lifestyle

Main article: Active living

Biking reduces greenhouse gas emissions[16] while reducing the effects of a sedentary lifestyle at the same time[17] According to PLoS Medicine: "obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, which are in part related to physical inactivity, may be reduced by a switch to low-carbon transport—including walking and cycling."[18]


The health benefits (also called "co-benefits") from climate change mitigation measures are significant: potential measures can not only mitigate future health impacts from climate change but also improve health directly.[19] Climate change mitigation is interconnected with various co-benefits (such as reduced air pollution and associated health benefits)[20] and how it is carried out (in terms of e.g. policymaking) could also determine its impacts on living standards (whether and how inequality and poverty are reduced).[21]

There are many health co-benefits associated with climate action. These include those of cleaner air, healthier diets (e.g. less red meat), more active lifestyles, and increased exposure to green urban spaces.[22]: 26  Access to urban green spaces provides benefits to mental health as well.[22]: 18 

Compared with the current pathways scenario (with regards to greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation efforts), the "sustainable pathways scenario" will likely result in an annual reduction of 1.18 million air pollution-related deaths, 5.86 million diet-related deaths, and 1.15 million deaths due to physical inactivity, across the nine countries, by 2040. These benefits were attributable to the mitigation of direct greenhouse gas emissions and the commensurate actions that reduce exposure to harmful pollutants, as well as improved diets and safe physical activity.[23] Air pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion is both a major driver of global warming and the cause of a large number of annual deaths with some estimates as high as 8.7 million excess deaths during 2018.[24][25]

Placing health as a key focus of the Nationally Determined Contributions could present an opportunity to increase ambition and realize health co-benefits.[23]

Climate change adaptation

Strategies to limit climate change are complementary to efforts to adapt to it.[26]: 128  Limiting warming, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing them from the atmosphere, is also known as climate change mitigation.

There are some synergies (co-benefits) between adaptation and mitigation. Synergies include the benefits of public transport for both mitigation and adaptation. Public transport has lower greenhouse gas emissions per kilometer travelled than cars. A good public transport network also increases resilience in case of disasters: evacuation and emergency access becomes easier. Reduced air pollution from public transport improves health, which in turn may lead to improved economic resilience, as healthy workers perform better.[27]

Employment and economic development

Co-benefits can positively impact employment, industrial development, states' energy independence and energy self-consumption. The deployment of renewable energies can foster job opportunities. Depending on the country and deployment scenario, replacing coal power plants with renewable energy can more than double the number of jobs per average MW capacity.[28] Investments in renewable energies, especially in solar- and wind energy, can boost the value of production.[29] Countries which rely on energy imports can enhance their energy independence and ensure supply security by deploying renewables. National energy generation from renewables lowers the demand for fossil fuel imports which scales up annual economic saving.[30] Households and businesses can additionally benefit from investments in renewable energy. The deployment of rooftop solar and PV-self-consumption creates incentives for low-income households and can support annual savings for the residential sector.[31]

Energy access

Positive secondary effects from mitigation strategies can also occur for energy access. Rural areas which are not fully electrified can benefit from the deployment of renewable energies. Solar-powered mini-grids can remain economically viable, cost-competitive and reduce the number of power cuts. Energy reliability has additional social implications: stable electricity improves the quality of education.[32]


Positive secondary effects that occur from climate mitigation and adaptation measures have been mentioned in research since the 1990s.[33][34]

The IPCC pointed out in 2007: "Co-benefits of GHG mitigation can be an important decision criteria in analyses carried out by policy-makers, but they are often neglected."[35] And often the co-benefits are "not quantified, monetised or even identified by businesses and decision-makers".[35] Appropriate consideration of co-benefits can greatly "influence policy decisions concerning the timing and level of mitigation action", and there can be "significant advantages to the national economy and technical innovation".[35]

The IPCC first mentioned the role of co-benefits in 2001, followed by its fourth and fifth assessment cycle stressing improved working environment, reduced waste, health benefits and reduced capital expenditures.[36] In the early 2000s the OECD was further fostering its efforts in promoting ancillary benefits.[37] During the past decade, co-benefits have been discussed by several other international organisations: The International Energy Agency (IEA) spelled out the "multiple benefits approach" of energy efficiency while the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) operationalised the list of co-benefits of the renewable energy sector.[38][39]

Relevance for international agreements

The UNFCCC's Paris Agreement acknowledges mitigation co-benefits from Parties' action plans.[40] Co-benefits have been integrated in official national policy documents such as India's National Action Plan on Climate Change or the updated Vietnamese National Determined Contributions.[41][42]


Mitigation measures can also have negative side effects and risks.[43]: TS-133  In agriculture and forestry, mitigation measures can affect biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.[43]: TS-87  In the area of renewable energy, mining for metals and minerals can increase mining threats to conservation areas.[44] To address one of these issues, there is research into ways to recycle solar panels and electronic waste in order to create a source for materials that would otherwise need to be mined.[45][46]

Discussions about risks and negative side effects of mitigation measures can "lead to deadlock or a sense that there are intractable obstacles to taking action".[46]


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