by | November 28, 2019 | Opinion

How can we protect our children’s health from the climate emergency?

If we heed its outcomes, the new ’The Lancet Countdown 2019’ report provides evidence to transform the health  of children born today for the better

The climate emergency is undermining the foundations of good health; threatening the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the hospitals and clinics on which we depend. However, the response to the climate emergency could also be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, a collaboration between 120 experts from 35 institutions including the World Health Organisation (WHO), World Bank, University College London, and Tsinghua University,  is a comprehensive yearly analysis tracking progress across 41 key indicators, demonstrating what action to meet Paris Agreement targets—or business as usual—means for human health.

The 2019 report demonstrates that the life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by the climate emergency, with populations around the world increasingly facing extremes of weather, food and water insecurity, changing patterns of infectious disease, and a less certain future. Without accelerated intervention, this new era will come to define the health of people at every stage of their lives. However, an alternative pathway with high policy ambition—which limits the global average temperature rise to “well below 2°C”—is possible, and would transform the health of a child born today for the better, throughout their lives.

Many of the indicators, divided into 5 thematic groups, are directly linked to air pollution, identified by the WHO as the greatest environmental risk to health:

  • Under the Theme ’Adaptation, Planning, and Resilience for Health’:
    • National adaptation plans for health (indicator 2.1.1.)
    • and city-level climate change risk assessments (indicator 2.1.3.)
  • Under the Theme ’Mitigation Actions and Health Co-Benefits’:
    • 3: Air pollution, energy, and transport: Exposure to air pollution in cities (indicator: 3.3.1:)
    • Premature mortality from ambient air pollution by sector (indicator 3.3.2) and
    • Sustainable and healthy transport (indicator 3.4)
  • Under the Theme ’Economics and Finance’:
    • Economic costs of air pollution (indicator 4.2)

What does this mean for Europe

A Policy briefing for the EU has been issued focusing on data from themes featured in the 2019 report including the economic costs of air pollution, electricity generation as well as transport.  From the key messages and recommendations include the following opportunities to improve our children’s health:

  • (Number 1) As part of the development of a European Green Deal, EU air quality standards should be updated aligned with WHO guidelines.
  • (Number 3) Prioritise active, accessible mobility for all. Promote safe walking and cycling and increase accessible mobility for all. Appropriate urban planning including low emission zones, car retrofit or replacement programs, and affordable public transport can also contribute to co-benefits for emissions reduction, air quality and physical activity.
  • (Number 5) With updated nationally determined contributions due to be submitted by 2020, the EU should integrate health considerations throughout proposed interventions, with particular consideration to policies regarding coal and energy, transport, and the adaptation of health systems to respond to mosquito-borne diseases and other health threats, and step up in CO2 emissions reductions goals for 2030.

Placing health at the centre of the coming transition will yield enormous dividends for the public and the economy, with cleaner air, safer cities, and healthier diets. Bold new approaches to policy making, research, and business are needed in order to change course. An unprecedented challenge demands an unprecedented response. It will take the work of all of us to ensure that the health of a child born today is not defined by our changing climate.

EPHA was kindly asked to peer review the latest Countdown report and we gave input strengthening the links to air pollution and sustainable and safe active mobility.  EPHA also took part in the dissemination of the first report in 2017  


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