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IGU releases study on urban air quality

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The International Gas Union (IGU) has released a report highlighting how the enhanced use of natural gas in energy generation, heating and industry can drastically reduce emissions, mercury and particulate matter, thereby providing an enhanced quality of life for people living in urban societies.

While the current UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) negotiations in Paris demonstrate the high level global political focus on the issue of climate change, the IGU's study emphasises the immediate importance of air quality.

The latest research compiled by the IGU highlights the connection between reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants and presents case studies of efforts in four cities: New York, Istanbul, Toronto, and Beijing. These cities are tackling the issue of improving urban air quality and have featured gas as one of the main contributors to their efforts. This can provide an example for other cities seeking to reduce the potentially severe health consequences of urban air pollution.

Scott Foster, Director of Sustainable Energy Division, UNECE, said, "Of course the focus of COP21 is climate change, however we must also be aware of the shorter term quality of life issues that are entirely interconnected. We welcome the conclusions of this report that demonstrates real world proven success in enhancing public health through reducing emissions that will also reduce carbon emissions over the long term perspective."

David Carroll, President of the IGU said, "These cases show that switching from coal to gas fired power is often the fastest and cheapest way for countries to reduce emissions of sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and fine particulates that are detrimental to the environment and have a significant impact on human health."

In the early 90s, Istanbul's air was dangerously dirty, SO2 concentration was 11 times higher than WHO guidelines. The switch to gas transformed the city and helped facilitate both economic growth and made Istanbul far more liveable for its 14 million inhabitants.

In 2004, Toronto Public Health estimated that air pollution in the city contributed to 1700 premature deaths and 6000 hospitalisations per year. The removal of coal fired power generation started in 2005 and was completed in 2014, with gas as the major replacement fuel. In 2014, premature deaths and hospitalisations were reduced by 23% and 40% respectively.

In 2007, the same year that the levels of Ozone and PM2.5 exceeded US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, New York City (NYC) launched PlaNYC, its first long term sustainability plan. By the fall of 2013, approximately 30% of heavy fuel burning buildings, 2700 out of 9000, in NYC converted to cleaner fuels. Approximately 75% of those that made the switch converted to natural gas or ultra-low sulfur No. 2 oil.

SOx concentrations decreased by 69% in four years; PM2.5 levels met EPA standards for the first time in 2014. These efforts have led to 780 fewer deaths in the city and over 2000 fewer emergency room visits each year.

The level of air pollution is estimated to contribute to approximately 1.2 - 1.61 million deaths per year in China. In 2013 and 2014 the average PM2.5 level in the Beijing and surrounding area was more than 10 times greater than the WHO recommended levels.

The current goal for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region is to reduce PM2.5 levels 25% by 2017. The specific action plan includes decommissioning the highest emitting vehicles, prohibiting construction of any new heavy polluting industries, and replacing coal with renewables and natural gas.

Armed with supporting data from these examples and other urban areas, the IGU supports policies that reduce GHG emissions and emissions of health damaging air pollutants. Policies such as improvement of end-use energy efficiency; increases in combustion efficiency (reducing or eliminating black carbon and other products of incomplete combustion); encouragement of fuel switching; increased use of non-combustion renewable energies.

Feng Huisheng, Deputy Director of the Environmental Protection Bureau of Beijing Municipal government said, “Climate change, environmental protection and air pollution could be traced to similar causes and are interconnected issues. Smog has severely affected daily life and has raised awareness on tackling climate change. Beijing is ahead of cities in China in its action against air pollution. We take natural gas as one of the most cost effective and practical approaches to achieve the target for its benefit of efficiency and flexibility. Natural gas could also facilitate the wide deployment of renewables by solving the intermittence issue. It is without doubt, an integral part of sustainable energy and economic growth."

Adapted from press release by Francesca Brindle

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