New York, New York – Stricter worldwide vehicle emissions standards would yield major benefits in health, agriculture and climate, according to a new study by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

“The adoption of aggressive standards by 2015 would set the world on a course to prevent the deaths of 200,000 people, save 13 million tons of cereal grains from ozone damage, and save $1.5 trillion in health damages each year after 2030,” said Drew Shindell, who led the team of scientists. After five years, the standards would amount to saving a million lives, more than 50 million tons of food, and $7.5 trillion in human health damages.

The scientists used a comprehensive computer model and climate simulator, one of the first capable of accounting for the role of aerosols, short-lived particles expelled in vehicle fumes. The study showed that vehicle fumes exact an enormous toll in all countries and especially in the developing world. The modeling techniques compared a baseline scenario that assumes existing emission standards remain unchanged in coming decades, with a second scenario that has most countries adopting stringent standards similar to those in place in Europe and North America. Vehicles in those two regions produce less particulate matter and fewer polluting gases due to the use of particle filters and cleaner-burning fuels.

When an aggressive scenario assumed that China, India and Brazil would adopt “Euro 6” standards by 2015, it would reduce emissions of particulate matter by about 85 per cent, nitrogen oxides by about 65 per cent, and carbon monoxide by about 70 per cent for passenger vehicles.

Particulate matter from vehicle fumes can penetrate deep into the lungs, sparking a range of diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular disease and bronchitis, while ozone, the product of reactions between nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide or hydrocarbons, and sunlight, can inflame the lining of air passages, making breathing more difficult, and can scar lungs after long periods of exposure. In plants, it damages cell membranes, slowing photosynthesis and reducing crop yields.

The analysis also broke down potential health benefits by region, with the benefits varying widely. Overall, the modeling found that stricter standards would prevent the most number of deaths in China, India and North Africa, where unfiltered soot-producing diesel engines remain ubiquitous.

While reductions in particulate matter tend to produce local health benefits, the scientists found that reduced ozone benefits were dispersed more widely. For some countries, such as India, changes in emissions from neighbouring countries could have as much impact as local emission changes on health and agriculture.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to emissions standards,” Shindell said. “Different countries are going to need different approaches.”

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