Health and Climate

7 December 2010

Economies are stressed and lending rates are high. Here at COP 16 it is the negotiators who are stressed and their blood pressures run high as they struggle to close the gaping wound that is the Gigatonne Gap. But fortunately, there are doctors in the house, and their climate checkup tells us about the benefits of addressing our emissions addictions.
We would all agree that exercise is beneficial to health. The changes in transport policy and the decrease in sedentism required to meet our GHG emissions targets can save lives, says leading medical journal The 
For example, heart artery disease can fall by 20%, breast cancer by 12% and even dementia by 8%.  And rates of respiratory disease (such as asthma) fall as pollution levels decline — a benefit also seen where clean cooking technologies replace  primitive stoves in developing regions. Rates of heart illness fall, as do those of osteoporosis (bone thinning), diabetes, obesity and depression.   Appropriate trimming of animal meat and fat consumption also reduces heart disease rates by 15%, and would reduce rates of bowel cancer. The Lancet showed that such gains applied worldwide, including the UK, India, and China.
With a healthier, more productive workforce, output will improve and healthcare costs will fall.  These data should encourage the EU, for one, to stretch for more ambition, and aim for at least a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Upping the target from 20% will save an additional 30 billion Euros each year in healthcare costs — nearly two-thirds of the annual 46 billion Euro cost of such a change estimated by the European Commission. Put another way, as much as two-thirds of mitigation costs might be offset by healthcare savings.
And here’s an example closer to our temporary home here in Cancun.  Even a 10% fall in small particle pollution in Mexico City would save US $760 million a year.
On Thursday, a meeting in the US Pavilion emphasised the dire human health impact of climate change. Human suffering is the loose change paying the price of climate change. Ambitious mitigation targets can prevent that, and save lives and money as well. Let’s take the prescription, show ambition, and heal that Gigatonne Gap. And make nations healthier, happier and richer while we are at it.
Monday 6 December will be “Health Day” in Cancun. Watch for a statement for delegates supported by leading global medical and health groups.

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