Vital need to put health at forefront of climate change policy

Vital need to put health at forefront of climate change policy
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New modelling has revealed how adopting policies that are consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement and prioritise health could save millions of lives each year.

New research from The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change has revealed that if countries raise their climate ambitions to meet the Paris Agreement aim of limiting warming to “well below 2°C”, 6.4 million lives could be saved due to better diet, 1.6 million lives due to cleaner air, and 2.1 million lives due to increased exercise, per year, across nine countries.

The research has been published in a special issue of The Lancet Planetary Health and the countries considered in the study, including Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK, and the US, represent 50% of the world’s population and 70% of the world’s emissions.

Premature deaths from climate change

Currently, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) globally are not strong enough to achieve the Paris agreement – risking a global temperature rise of greater than 3°C.

Lead author Ian Hamilton, Executive Director of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, said: “Our report focuses on a crucial but often overlooked incentive for tackling climate change. Unlike the direct benefits of carbon mitigation which are ultimately long-term and understood in terms of damage limitation, the health co-benefits of ambitious climate policies have an immediate positive impact.

“The message is stark. Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year, the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health. We have an opportunity now to place health in the forefront of climate change policies to save even more lives.”

The authors say that adopting explicit health objectives within the NDCs could result in a further reduction of 462,000, 572,000, and 943,000 annual deaths attributable to air pollution, diet, and physical inactivity, respectively. The authors highlight that the world is not yet on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and would still face 2.5°C of warming by the end of the century.

Margaret Chan, Former Director-General of the World Health Organisation, said: “The report findings therefore provide an important further incentive not only for the world’s leaders to make good on their climate commitments in new NDCs but also to align environmental and health objectives in COVID-19 recovery plans. After all, healthier populations will prove more resilient to future health shocks. It’s also important to recognise the billions in cost-savings resulting improved health on this scale, which could help offset the up-front costs of mitigation.”

The authors note that the number of deaths averted through air pollution, diet, and physical activity were modelled separately, so they cannot be added together, as they cannot account for crossover in potential deaths averted due to air pollution, better diet, and increased exercise. As the modelling study projects into future possible scenarios, they also note that the estimates relied on various assumptions of future demographic and socio-economic trends.

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