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Protecting Local Water Can Help Slow Climate Change and Provide Trillions of Dollars in Benefits

Protecting Local Water Can Help Slow Climate Change and Provide Trillions of Dollars in Benefits

AUSTIN, Texas — A new paper in the May issue of Nature Communications demonstrates why reducing nutrient pollution in local lakes and other waterbodies produces economic benefits globally: Reducing water pollution can help slow climate change and provide trillions of dollars in benefits.

Using one Lake Erie case study as an example, the authors also found that the global climate change value of protecting this Great Lake from harmful algae blooms was 10 times as great as the value of improved beach use or sport fishing.

This new evidence from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin runs counter to previous cost-benefit studies showing the costs of protecting local water sources often exceeded the benefits.

One reason for this, said the authors, is that scientists and economists have previously considered only a narrow range of local benefits when calculating the outcomes of good water quality. The study’s authors sought to calculate the potential global benefits.

“This work is exciting for two reasons. First, it shows that we are leaving out an important type of benefit – avoided global climate damages – in the typical way we estimate the benefits of local water pollution control,” said Sheila Olmstead, a co-author and environmental economist at the LBJ School. “Our paper suggests that regulators should consider changing this practice. Second, it highlights reducing nutrient pollution as a potentially cost-effective tool for reducing methane emissions, an important climate change policy goal.”

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