- Benefits of mitigation to human health and nature accrue before the benefits of mitigation are apparent.
- Health benefits are of higher economic value than the cost of mitigation policies.
- Rapid emission reductions are needed across all sectors; adopting the right policies can make a big difference to health and wider environmental benefits.
- The value of health co-benefits can justify rapid scaling up of mitigation policies and technologies, and thus accelerate progress towards a zero-emissions economy.
The increasingly intensive emissions of greenhouse gases that cause human-induced climate change have negative health effects on humans and the natural environment. Estimates of the costs of mitigation (e.g. with renewable energies, active transport or Nature-based Solutions) are comparable to or lower than the full economic value of saved lives and reduced illness and protecting or restoring the natural world. In other words, investments in mitigation are well worth making and will save communities and countries money in the long term. Biodiversity losses lead to losses in ecosystems and their corresponding contributions to humans. These losses include reduced crop yields and fish catches, losses from flooding and erosion and loss of potential new sources of medicines. Furthermore, many of the co-benefits to human health and nature take place shortly after mitigation investments are made (e.g. when reducing methane emissions). Without immediate investments in emissions reduction, it will not be possible to fully protect and enhance the resilience of those who are most at risk from the health impacts of climate change, many of whom already face increasing health inequities. Failing to act swiftly will enlarge the social gap not only between low-, middle- and high income countries but also within countries. There are trade-offs to manage, including job losses in certain industries compared to job gains in others. Importantly, a transition to a less polluting and healthier society must consider the importance of a diversified and context-specific approach. This indicates that the distribution of benefits is as important as the magnitude of the benefits.
- 67 million – annual deaths caused by air pollution.29
- 2 years – reduction in of average life expectancy due to particulate pollution exceeding the World Health Organization guideline.4
- A study on Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK and the USA showed that investing in mitigation can reduce:
- 18 million air pollution-related deaths,
- 86 million diet-related deaths, and
- 15 million deaths due to physical inactivity in the countries stated above by 2040.
- 8 GtCO2 – emissions reductions by 2030 that can be made when conserving, restoring and improving the management of forests, grasslands, wetlands and agricultural lands.
- 70% – cancer drugs that are natural or inspired by nature.30
- Every million tonnes (Mt) of methane reduced:31
- prevents approximately 1,430 annual premature deaths due to ozone globally
- increases yields with 55,000 tonnes of wheat, 17,000 tonnes of soybeans, 42,000 tonnes of maize, and 31,000 tonnes of rice annually.
- London, UK: Retrofitting urban planning for low traffic neighbourhoods in London has shown reductions in car ownership and use, plus large increases in physical activity, reductions in injuries and reductions in street crime. This is a low cost (placing planters and cameras), equitable and scalable intervention, covering over 300,000 people in 6 months with hopeful implications for health and climate.32, 33, 34
- New South Wales, Australia: A farmer in Australia reported ecosystem co-benefits when engaging in regenerative farming practices as part of a climate-change mitigation strategy. The Australian farmer who participated in the study estimated that his costs were 80% lower since transitioning to regenerative ranching compared to conventional practices due to eliminating chemical fertilizer and insecticides and reducing fuel costs.35
- Flanders, Belgium: The Sigma Plan in Belgium is a long-term landscape project that improves water safety (the plan provides controlled flooding to increase resilience from weather extremes for local communities and nearby cities). Concurrent to water safety, it also focuses on the development of river nature, recreational facilities and local economies directly providing Nature-based Solutions for the health of humans and nature. For more see: https://www.sigmaplan.be/en/
Improvements in health and economic data availability, including in low- and middle-income countries, have strengthened the science of climate change mitigation and its resulting health co-benefits. Advancements in the understanding of the drivers of health impacts resulted in a shift from improvements in technological efficiency, which in turn led to increased energy consumption, to a systems approach that recognizes the impact of human activity on the health of humans and nature. To date, there are examples relevant to all sectors that can support decision-makers to incentivize transitions in transport, agriculture, forestry, food production, energy, industry and lifestyles that ensure PHiAP.
While the drivers and solutions are increasingly becoming well known, the economic benefits are not yet always well understood. More research is needed to develop frameworks that systematically define indicators of health co-benefits, to better be able to compare across studies, and how they can be consistently reflected in economic terms.
Implications & Recommendations
At a global level, decision makers need to:
- adopt a Planetary Health in All Policies (PHiAP) approach to better leverage health benefits when developing policies as well as reducing the emergence of health risks;
- raise awareness of the health co-benefits and associated economic savings to increased climate-change mitigation investments in low-, middle- and high-income countries;
- support countries to assess the health costs and benefits of mitigation action (or inaction).
At a national level, governments are urged to:
- stop direct and indirect support of activities that harm health, harm natural systems and increase greenhouse gas emissions, e.g. conventional approaches to infrastructure development including in transport and energy. Instead, take on an approach that incorporates health and climate mitigation;
- carefully design mitigation and adaptation interventions so that they promote healthy ecosystems, lower public health risks, and save costs while minimizing trade-offs;
- invest in conserving, restoring, rewilding and improving the management of forests, grasslands, wetlands and agricultural lands because they could deliver an estimated 23.8 GtCO2 cumulative emissions reductions by 2030.27
Individuals should consider:
- taking immediate action, such as insulating their homes to lower their energy consumption; buying from sources that do not harm nature and choosing sustainable energy and food providers if they have the options available;
- reducing meat consumption to prevent cardiovascular disease as well as to reduce methane emissions that are contributing to climate change;
- taking on an active travel approach with walking, cycling or public transport to maintain their health and that of the environment. Car sharing is a good alternative to conventional ownership.