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HEAL Reaction: Medics offer a healthy boost for a stronger Paris climate agreement

By Génon K. Jensen, Executive Director of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

Brussels, 23 June 2015 - The UCL-Lancet Commission on health and climate change 2015 published today offers policy makers an opportunity to connect with an issue close to the hearts of European citizens – their health.

This second Commission report of the renowned Lancet medical journal says the effects of climate change on health “are being felt today, and future projections pose an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health.” But their message is also positive and an offer of leadership. It is also creates a chance to connect climate with what people care about most - their health and the health of their communities - and to unite all actors behind this common cause.

The Commission’s central finding is that “ tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century ”.

This statement further solidifies the good news that HEAL and the wider health community have been voicing in the past years: What is good for climate is good for health and the economy.

The in-depth document, which offers a comprehensive review of evidence on climate and health from an interdisciplinary committee of medical experts, makes clear that the technologies and finance can be made available; it shows that what is needed is political will and leadership.

A 10-point plan for climate negotiators this December

It brings forward 10-point plan that gives EU and global leaders another chance to use compelling public health evidence. The authors offer policy makers an opportunity to turn up the volume by drawing on the voices of trusted and powerful messengers that can be found among doctors, nurses and advocacy groups working on asthma, diabetes, obesity, heart health and cancer.

The new Lancet findings underline the need for a good outcome at the December climate negotiations in Paris. The authors point to the considerable reductions in health problems and healthcare costs available from climate mitigation measures. For example, cases of bronchitis, asthma, other serious lung disease and strokes can be reduced as a result of climate action producing cleaner air. Similarly, diabetes and obesity rates would fall when policy change makes it easier for people to be more physically active, for example, by switching from using a car to walking and cycling.

The EU Commission has estimated that climate mitigation would bring benefits of 38 billion EUR annually in 2050 through reduced mortality from air pollution. HEAL has estimated that by increasing the EU’s 2020 climate goal, up to 30.5 billion EUR in healthcare costs and lost productivity per year could be saved.

With this new report, heads of state and governments participating in the Paris talks have the evidence base at hand to support an ambitious agreement, a swifter move away from fossil fuels and a decarbonisation path that will boost the health of their citizens.

A boost for HEAL’s work on coal

From HEAL’s perspective and experience, the recommendations addressing energy issues are particularly important and underpin the results of our work in a dozen countries in the vastly different socio-economic situations of the European region of 53 countries.

For example, one of the points is: “Protect cardiovascular and respiratory health by ensuring a rapid phase out of coal from the global energy mix. Many of the 2200 coal-fired plants currently proposed for construction globally will damage health unless replaced with cleaner energy alternatives.

Although within the EU only Poland defies the downward coal trend, massive coal investments are happening on Europe’s doorstep: Turkey is currently planning to quadruple its existing number of coal power plants, which would have major adverse consequences for health. A recent report by HEAL on the health burden from polluted air from existing coal powered plants estimated costs to health care and productivity at up to €3.6 billion per year. In Serbia, health and medical experts together with the Serbian deputy minister for health have just called for health to be considered in national energy decisions.

Another important strategy to protect against the health burdens of local and national energy choices couldn’t be more timely and spot on: “ensure that health impact assessments are built in to the planning, costing, and approval phases of a new project. By developing the tools and capacity to enforce this, policy makers can better understand the broader consequences of their decisions”.

With our country-by-country figures for the EU contained in the report “The Unpaid health bill: How coal power plants make us sick”, HEAL can show that healthy energy choices can produce results. By empowering national and local health groups with economic costs from pollution generated by coal power plants or fracking, energy decisions can be put to the test. For example, in Poland, HEAL’s expert evidence was used in a lawsuit that led to the overturning of an environmental permit for the one gigawatt Czeczott power plant, which was in a coal mining region already experiencing poor air quality.

Overall, HEAL’s message - as with that of the Lancet Commission - is that the health benefits from climate action should become a much more prominent argument for an ambitious climate agreement.

We have long recognised the power of promoting the health benefits of climate action and of supporting the health community in Europe to bring the evidence and the options to governments and to climate negotiators. With this major new document, the medical and health community have the material and direction they need to be powerful messengers. We hope that European policy makers will call on these trusted and authoritative voices. After all, who better to warn of the catastrophic threats to human health and to help accelerate a healthier path ahead? The future should be one in which we have kicked our fossil fuel habit, created health promoting urban spaces and reduced the unacceptable health inequalities for the poorest.


Download the report here: http://climatehealthcommission.org/the-report/
HEAL’s press release in German here: http://www.env-health.org/resources/press-releases/article/neuer-lancet-report

Last updated on 24 June 2015

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »

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