The Lancet Countdown: policy recommendations in the context of the COP 27

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change published on 26 October 2022 the new 2022 Policy Brief for Europe. Climate change threatens to reverse the progress made over the last 50 years in global health and development. This is the reason why the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) took part in its preparation and dissemination with other European health organisations such as the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME), the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER) and the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). 

This policy brief highlights areas for action on health and climate change, building on the scientific evidence of the 2022 Global Report of the Lancet Countdown released on the same day. The global report emphasizes that persistent fossil fuel addiction is amplifying the health impacts of climate change. The European policy brief focuses on data and policy recommendations in three key areas: sustainable food and diets, ambient air pollution, and greening of the healthcare sector, including sustainable waste management as part of future pandemic preparedness. 

The recommendation on sustainable food and diets is to develop national food strategies and plans supporting the transformation of food production, manufacturing, retail, service, and distribution systems to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) across Europe, whilst protecting the planet’s soils, biodiversity, air, water, and public health. This includes encouraging the shift towards healthier, plant-rich, and affordable diets by reducing the intake of red meat and dairy products (with less pesticide and fertiliser use). Special attention should be given to restricting marketing and advertising of unhealthy food, with a large carbon footprint. 

The recommendation on ambient air pollution is that by 2030 at the latest, fully align EU air quality standards (which are legally binding at national level) with the updated World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Air Quality Guidelines, including 5 μg/m3 (annual mean) for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and the latest scientific evidence on the health effects of air pollution. 

The recommendation on the greening of the healthcare sector is to increase national efforts to de-carbonise healthcare services towards net zero emissions by improving energy efficiency, regulating the procurement and greening the lifecycle of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. The healthcare sector should develop waste management systems and invest in research in sustainability and patient-safe healthcare. 

These two documents are valuable as the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) will be held from 6 to 18 November 2022 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The European Union wishes to lead the way in a transition towards an economy that gives more to the planet than it takes away. It is now time to deliver and reach climate neutrality in a sustainable way, and the Lancet Countdown’s publications are the roadmap to follow. 

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