Lessening the impact of climate change on health

Reducing the use of fossil fuels and increasing the use of renewable energy sources can improve health by cutting air pollution and addressing climate change, state the authors of a review published in this week's issue of The Lancet.

It is now widely accepted that climate change is occurring due to the combustion of fossil fuels and accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change is likely to affect health in a number of ways including vector-borne and diarrhoeal diseases, malnutrition, flood-related conditions and deaths due to heat and cold. The effects of climate change will impact most heavily on low-income countries and vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, in developed countries write Andy Haines (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK) and colleagues. A number of public-health measures can help populations to adapt to climate change but they will be more difficult to implement in low-income countries.

The authors state that industrialised nations, which have benefited so much from fossil fuels, should take the lead in reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar, wave, and wind power will have a beneficial effect on climate change and health. They note for example that a study suggests that vehicles powered by hydrogen from renewable energy sources could save 3700-6400 lives a year in the US from reduced air pollution, as well as benefiting climate change. They call for more sustainable transport systems that make more use of public transport, walking, and cycling in developed and developing countries, especially in rapidly developing countries like India and China, where road traffic is growing markedly.

Professor Haines states: "With climate change already underway, there is a need to assess vulnerabilities and identify cost-effective intervention/adaptation options in the health sector and in sectors that have direct links to human health. Early planning can help reduce future adverse health impacts and mitigation strategies--eg using a number of renewable energy sources--can improve health by reducing air pollution as well as addressing climate change."

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Contact: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine press office T) 020-7927-2073


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