Climate Change

COP24: World can save 1 million lives by meeting Paris goals on air pollution

A WHO report released at the Katowice conference says health benefits far outweigh the costs of meeting climate change goals in India

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 05 December 2018
Air pollution alone kills 7 million people in the world every year and costs welfare losses worth $5.11 trillion, says the WHO report.

A million lives in the world can be saved if countries cut air pollution levels as per the Paris Agreement by 2050, says a report released by the World Health Organization at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice on December 5.

“The Paris Agreement is potentially the strongest health agreement of this century,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “The evidence is clear that climate change is already having a serious impact on human lives and health. It threatens the basic elements we all need for good health—clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply and safe shelter—and will undermine decades of progress in global health. We can’t afford to delay action any further.”

If all goes fine, the value of health gains from climate action in India and China will be more than double the cost of mitigation measures. “When health is taken into account, climate change mitigation is an opportunity, not a cost,” says Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

The report adds that air pollution alone kills 7 million people in the world every year and costs welfare losses worth $5.11 trillion. The 15 countries, which emit the most amount of greenhouse gas, spend 4 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on health impacts of air pollution. This is when actions to meet the Paris goals cost around 1 per cent of global GDP.

It’s all linked

What’s driving climate change is exactly what is affecting people’s health. For example, fossil fuel combustion is main contributor to climate change as well as air pollution.  

If the world switches to low-carbon energy sources, as prescribed in the Paris Agreement, it will not only improve air quality but also provide opportunities for immediate health benefits. For example, cycling can help increase physical activity, which will protect people from diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart ailments.

“The true cost of climate change is felt in our hospitals and in our lungs. The health burden of polluting energy sources is now so high that moving to cleaner and more sustainable choices for energy supply, transport and food systems effectively pays for itself,” adds Neira.

The WHO report says that although countries are making an effort to protect their citizens from climate change, it’s not at an adequate scale. It adds that only 0.5% of multilateral climate funds dispersed for climate change adaptation are allocated to health projects. Another example, Pacific Island countries contribute 0.03% of greenhouse gas emissions, but they are the most affected by its impacts.

“We now have a clear understanding of what needs to be done to protect health from climate change—from more resilient and sustainable healthcare facilities, to improved warning systems for extreme weather and infectious disease outbreaks. But the lack of investment is leaving the most vulnerable behind,” said Joy St John, assistant director-general for Climate and Other Determinants of Health.

For a healthier tomorrow

The WHO suggests that countries should count health while doing a cost-benefit analysis of climate change mitigation. The UN health agency also proposes fiscal incentives be used motivate sectors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Engaging with the health community, civil society and health professionals will also help mobilise collectively to promote climate action and health co-benefits, recommends WHO.

The participating nations should also promote the role of cities and sub-national governments in climate action and monitor it. Lastly, the WHO says that the fiscal policy must also include health implications of mitigation and adaptation measures. 

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