Transforming climate change from a threat to an opportunity

-Lancet Commission on Health and Climate report launch

by Dr Kris Murray, Grantham Lecturer in Global Change Ecology

Today the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate announced the release of their new report “2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change: Policy Responses to Protect Public Health”.

Following a first report released in 2009, which concluded that “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”, today’s report has a proactive, positive take-home:  “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”

Strategically released following the 68th World Health Assembly held last month and in the lead up to the UNFCCC’s COP21, to be held in Paris later this year, the report is the culmination of a second international (predominantly Chinese-European) working group assembled to assess the health impacts of climate change and to identify and accelerate effective mitigation and adaptation policies over the next 5 years.

The report provides 9 recommendations and delivers 1 promise:

  1. Research, monitor and surveil: improve understanding of adaptation needs and the co-benefits of mitigation actions
  1. Finance: spend more to create world-wide climate resilient health systems, with richer countries helping the poor to adapt and minimise other impacts
  1. Energy: reduce cardiovascular and respiratory health impacts from particulate matter and pollutants by phasing out coal, switching to cleaner alternatives (renewables with gas transition phase) and reducing air pollution from the transport, agriculture and energy sectors
  1. Healthy cities: develop energy efficient buildings, promote low-cost active transport (e.g., biking, walking), create and increase access to green spaces
  1. Carbon pricing mechanism: get one, a strong, predictable and international one.
  1. Reliable renewables: increase access to renewables in low and middle –income countries to unlock economic gains and promote health equity
  1. Count the avoided costs: accurately quantify reduced burden of disease and health care costs and track economic productivity on the path towards a healthy, low-carbon future
  1. Collaborate: build more and better links between Ministries of Health and other government departments and embed health and climate considerations into all government environmental strategies, e.g., those addressing deforestation, biodiversity loss and ocean acidification
  1. Global low-carbon agreement: get one, agree on ambitious and enforceable mitigation targets that also allow sustainable development
  1. Develop a Global Health and Climate Action Countdown to 2030 (a promise from the Commission): provide expertise to help implement mitigation and adaptation policies and monitor, support and communicate progress using appropriate indicators.

Accompanying the launch of the report, the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate are holding a number of events around the world (including London, New York and Canberra), which will include speakers, panel discussions and an opportunity for Q&A from participants. The Health and Environment Alliance will also host a virtual launch event.

While the recommendations are not exactly breaking radical new ground, they do represent a welcome synthesis of the front-line evidence on the health impacts of climate change with a clear focus on solutions (the details of which make up the bulk of the report).

Perhaps more critically, they also crank up the volume of the voice of the health community at a critical time in the climate change arena – a voice that has a formidable track record of achievement in confronting other highly complex, trans-national, politically charged threats to health.

For further comment on the report, see the Lancet website.

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