Background Climate change is likely to further worsen ozone pollution in already heavily polluted areas, leading to increased ozone-related health burdens. However, little evidence exists in China, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter and most populated country. As China is embracing an aging population with changing population size and falling age-standardized mortality rates, the potential impact of population change on ozone-related health burdens is unclear. Moreover, little is known about the seasonal variation of ozone-related health burdens under climate change. We aimed to assess near-term (mid-21st century) future annual and seasonal excess mortality from short-term exposure to ambient ozone in 104 Chinese cities under 2 climate and emission change scenarios and 6 population change scenarios.
Methods and findings We collected historical ambient ozone observations, population change projections, and baseline mortality rates in 104 cities across China during April 27, 2013, to October 31, 2015 (2013±2015), which included approximately 13% of the total population of mainland China. Using historical ozone monitoring data, we performed bias correction and spatially downscaled future ozone projections at a coarse spatial resolution (2.0Ê × 2.5Ê) for the period April 27, 2053, to October 31, 2055 (2053±2055), from a global chemistry±climate model to a fine spatial resolution (0.25Ê × 0.25Ê) under 2 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs): RCP4.5, a moderate global warming and emission scenario where global warming is between 1.5ÊC and 2.0ÊC, and RCP8.5, a high global warming and emission scenario where global warming exceeds 2.0ÊC. We then estimated the future annual and seasonal ozone-related acute excess mortality attributable to both climate and population changes using cause-specific, age-group-specific, and seasonspecific concentration±response functions (CRFs). We used Monte Carlo simulations to obtain empirical confidence intervals (eCIs), quantifying the uncertainty in CRFs and the variability across ensemble members (i.e., 3 predictions of future climate and air quality from slightly different starting conditions) of the global model. Estimates of future changes in annual ozone-related mortality are sensitive to the choice of global warming and emission scenario, decreasing under RCP4.5 (−24.0%) due to declining ozone precursor emissions but increasing under RCP8.5 (10.7%) due to warming climate in 2053±2055 relative to 2013±2015. Higher ambient ozone occurs under the high global warming and emission scenario (RCP8.5), leading to an excess 1,476 (95% eCI: 898 to 2,977) non-accidental deaths per year in 2053±2055 relative to 2013±2015. Future ozone-related acute excess mortality from cardiovascular diseases was 5±8 times greater than that from respiratory diseases. Ozone concentrations increase by 15.1 parts per billion (10−9) in colder months (November to April), contributing to a net yearly increase of 22.3% (95% eCI: 7.7% to 35.4%) in ozonerelated mortality under RCP8.5. An aging population, with the proportion of the population aged 65 years and above increased from 8% in 2010 to 24%±33% in 2050, will substantially amplify future ozone-related mortality, leading to a net increase of 23,838 to 78,560 deaths (110% to 363%). Our analysis was mainly limited by using a single global chemistry±climate model and the statistical downscaling approach to project ozone changes under climate change.
Conclusions Our analysis shows increased future ozone-related acute excess mortality under the high global warming and emission scenario RCP8.5 for an aging population in China. Comparison with the lower global warming and emission scenario RCP4.5 suggests that climate change mitigation measures are needed to prevent a rising health burden from exposure to ambient ozone pollution in China.