Climate change is a health emergency, including through extreme heat, food insecurity and increased risk of infectious diseases. Hundreds of millions of people’s lives are being impacted by the devastation wrought by the heating of the atmosphere. But that crisis also presents an opportunity. Many millions of lives will be saved – and improved – if we make the right responses.
The window of opportunity to act is narrowing, but solutions are already being implemented and many more are within reach. Instead of focusing exclusively on the cost of the urgent action we need to take, we must also consider the spiralling costs of inaction. The latest UN Environment Programme Emissions Gap report warned that the international community is falling far short of the 1.5C target of the Paris Agreement and that only urgent system-wide transformation can avoid climate disaster.
We must now work together to ensure we are investing in actions and technologies that both cut greenhouse gas emissions and deliver a healthy future. There are major benefits to health from climate action. For example, it has been estimated recently that at least six million premature deaths could be prevented annually in just nine countries by 2040 if actions to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement’s climate goals were implemented. And that’s before you include the reduced danger to life from climate change. Switching to a more sustainable and healthy diet would save about 5.9 million lives each year in those countries. Cleaner air would save 1.2 million premature deaths and more exercise would save 1.1 million lives, with some overlap between them.
The economic benefits of avoiding these health impacts can also substantially or entirely offset the cost of effective climate actions. The value of the health benefits of controlling air pollution as part of climate mitigation efforts globally could amount to trillions of dollars annually, as well as reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.
The Lancet Pathfinder Commission Report on the health co-benefits of climate action, due to be published in 2023, will show how well-designed climate actions to achieve net zero equitably can deliver significant physical and mental health benefits while also reducing the risks of dangerous climate change.
We can save lives in the near term by focussing on reducing air pollution through fossil fuel phase out and scaling up clean renewable energy, transitioning to healthy and sustainable diets, ensuring the transport networks of the future prioritise public transport and active travel such as walking or cycling, and transforming urban design, infrastructure, and food production systems.
Further climate and health benefits will accrue from building sustainable housing and retrofitting existing homes with insulation and adequate ventilation systems, implementing nature-based solutions such as forest protection and agroforestry, and transforming health systems to achieve climate resilience and net zero emissions.
Taking ambitious action that emphasises health in all climate policies at international, national, and local levels would help put us on the path to achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and dramatically improve the prospects for health.
The Coalition on Climate Action for Health, hosted by the Pathfinder Initiative, will be launched in 2023 and will support the implementation of transformative climate solutions that benefit health and society. It will aim to provide evidence for effective action, advocate for adequate finance and access to appropriate technologies, particularly for low- and middle-income countries, strengthen capacity to evaluate progress, and ensure accountability.
All levels and sectors of society have a part to play, including national and local governments, cities, multilateral organisations, funding bodies, academic institutions and civil society. We must work together, draw on the best available scientific evidence, and share knowledge about what works to make rapid progress towards zero carbon healthy societies.
With COP27 underway, we call on nations, cities and organisations around the world to join the Coalition on Climate Action for Health and help accelerate the just transition to a healthy, zero carbon future.
Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Co-Chair of the Pathfinder Initiative
Sir Andy Haines, Professor of Environmental Change and Public Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Co-Chair of the Pathfinder Initiative
Joy Phumaphi, Executive Secretary, African Leaders Malaria Alliance, Co-Chair of the Pathfinder Initiative
Dr Lujain Alqodmani, President-elect of the World Medical Association (in a personal capacity)
Jamie Drummond, Co-Founder, ONE and Sharing Strategies
Saliem Fakir, Executive Director, The African Climate Foundation
Professor Kristie Ebi, Professor in Global Health, University of Washington
Dr Rachel Huxley, Director of Knowledge and Research, C40 Cities
Professor Peng Gong, Vice-President, University of Hong Kong
Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Chair, WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All
Dr Jeni Miller, Executive Director, Global Climate and Health Alliance
Dr Anders Nordström, Ambassador for Global Health, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Dr Tolullah Oni, Clinical Director of Research, Global Diet and Physical Activity Research Group, University of Cambridge
Dr Nicole De Paula, Founder, Women Leaders for Planetary Health
María Cortés Puch, Vice President of Networks, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network
Aromar Revi, Director, Indian Institute for Human Settlements
Professor Johan Rockström, Director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Professor Liam Smeeth, Director, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Dr Leena Srivastava, Lancet Pathfinder Commissioner
Dr Izabella Teixeira, Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel and former Environment Minister of Brazil
Nigel Topping, UN Climate Change High Level Champion for COP26
Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, Director of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations, University of Bath
Dr Robert B. Zougmoré, West Africa Lead, Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA), Alliance of Biodiversity International & CIAT
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