Health at the centre of climate change
Tackling climate change can deliver direct health benefits as well as helping to cut down on harmful impacts from pollution and poor diet, according to a report published today (25 November) by The Lancet medical journal.
In the run-up to the UN conference in Copenhagen in December, the report calls on health ministers and professionals across the world to recognise the danger that climate change poses to health the potential gains from reducing emissions.
Health Secretary Andy Burnham said that health issues should be at the centre of the fight against climate change. He pledged to bring the human health cost of climate change to the forefront of the debate, to prevent the dramatic impact on people's lives.
He highlighted the 'human face' of climate change in a world where rising sea levels are already displacing communities, and increased temperature is causing malaria to spread up hills and mountains.
He said: 'Climate change can seem a distant, impersonal threat - in fact, the associated costs to health are a very real and present danger.'
'Health ministers across the globe must act now to highlight the risk global warming poses to the health of our communities. We need well-designed climate change policies that drive health benefits.'
He said the climate change conference in Copenhagen that begins on 7 December meant 2009 was a 'landmark' year for the fight against global warming. 'The call to action does not end there – this is the start of a journey in which small but committed changes can make a significant difference to global health,' he said.
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said: 'An ambitious and fair deal in Copenhagen will not only have major benefits in terms of reducing the climate change related spread of infectious diseases and risks to food supply, but will also result in immediate green benefits in terms of a healthier environment and lifestyle for a low carbon Britain – and a low carbon world.'
Positive health benefits previously not discussed
While most people think of the negative impacts on health from climate change, the potential benefits of successfully tackling global warming have had relatively little attention.
The report in The Lancet, 'Health and Climate Change', which was partly funded by the Department of Health, shows that appropriate strategies to mitigate against climate change will themselves have additional and independent effects on health, most of them beneficial. It says that the potential value of these benefits has not so far been given sufficient prominence in international negotiations.
The authors looked at the health implications of actions in both high-income and low-income countries to achieve a 50% global reduction in emissions by 2050 compared with 1990, and an 80% reduction in emissions for high-income countries. They found that:
- In the UK, improvements in household energy efficiency could have net benefits for health, mainly through improved indoor temperature and air quality;
- In low-income countries, the products of incomplete combustion in traditional solid fuel stoves create a variety of heart and respiratory problems;
- Housing insulation can reduce deaths from both extreme cold and heat;
- Meeting targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will require more walking and cycling and less motor vehicle use, which will bring substantial health benefits from reduced cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, and dementia;
- Changing methods of electricity generation to reduce CO2 emissions would reduce particulate air pollution and deaths. The effect would be greatest in India;
- A reduction in consumption of animal source foods could have great benefits for cardiovascular health; and
- Because of their short life times in the atmosphere, a reduction in the emissions of black carbon and ozone precursors will offer almost immediate benefits.
International Development Minister Mike Foster said: 'If we don't take action now the consequences for the world's poor will be devastating. By 2080 climate change could mean an extra 600 million people worldwide are affected by malnutrition, an extra 400 million people could be exposed to malaria and an extra 1.8 billion people could be living without enough water. '
'That is why the UK is pushing for an ambitious global deal at Copenhagen that works not just for us, but also for the world's poorest people.'
Climate change policies 'improve health', BBC News 25 November 2009
Andy Burnham: 'Climate change poses serious threat to health', Guardian 25 November 2009
Eat less meat 'to reduce climate change and save thousands of lives', Telegraph 25 November 2009
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