Health as a driver for action on climate change

Given the potentially overwhelming effects of climate change on social wellbeing, the protection and promotion of public health is one of the most important motivations for climate action. Indeed, the protection of health and welfare is one of the central rationales for reducing emissions in Article One of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In addition to this, climate change mitigation can deliver many benefits to health worldwide. If designed with the ‘health co-benefits’ in mind, climate mitigation policies have the potential to substantially improve public health, reducing the burden of disease from a variety of illnesses, including lung disease, obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental illness, and road injuries.

Evidence indicates that these co-benefits will result in a substantial reduction in the cost of healthcare in many countries, with the potential for very large gains for national economies. A recent study suggests that in the European Union, reaching the 20% emissions reductions target (by 2020) would save almost € 52 billion in reduced health costs. When the economic benefits of resultant increased productivity are considered, the results are expected to be even more enticing.

Climate action that recognises these benefits can improve the health of individuals and communities, support resilient and sustainable development, and improve global equity.