The Lancet Planetary Health special issue

New research from the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change has been published in a special issue of The Lancet Planetary Health journal. It highlights the benefits to health if countries adopt climate plans – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – that are consistent with the Paris Agreement aim of limiting warming to “well below 2°C”.

A policy brief to accompany the research can be found here. 

The countries considered in the study represent 50% of the world’s population and 70% of the world’s emissions – Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK and the US.

Paris signatories are updating and revising their NDCs ahead of COP26 this year, which were due to be submitted before the end of 2020, and remain to be announced in the majority of countries (including six out of the nine countries included in the study).  Currently, NDCs globally are not strong enough to achieve the Paris agreement (currently risk a global temperature rise of greater than 3°C), and the authors emphasise that the lives saved through better diet, cleaner air and increased exercise, provide yet another rationale for strengthening commitments.

Lead author Ian Hamilton, Executive Director of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change and Associate Professor at UCL Energy Institute, said: “Our report focuses on a crucial but often overlooked incentive for tackling climate change. Unlike the direct benefits of carbon mitigation which are ultimately long-term and understood in terms of damage limitation, the health co-benefits of ambitious climate policies have an immediate positive impact. The message is stark. Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year, the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health. We have an opportunity now to place health in the forefront of climate change policies to save even more lives.”

For each nation, emissions generated from energy, agriculture and transport sectors, and annual deaths due to air pollution, diet-related risk factors and physical inactivity, were estimated for the year 2040 for three different NDC scenarios. The baseline scenario (state pathways) looked at current NDC policies, the second scenario (sustainable pathways) at NDC policies in line with the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals, and a third scenario (health pathways) looking at the additional benefit from embedding explicit health objectives within the sustainable pathways scenario.

Across all nine countries, the Paris Agreement-compliant scenario, could save 5.8 million lives due to better diet, 1.2 million lives due to cleaner air, and 1.2 million lives due to increased exercise.

Adopting the more ambitious pathway, with explicit health objectives within the NDCs, could result in a further reduction of 462,000, 572,000, and 943,000 annual deaths attributable to air pollution, diet and physical inactivity, respectively.

The authors note that number of deaths averted through air pollution, diet and physical activity were modelled separately, so they are not added together, as they cannot account for crossover in potential deaths averted due to air pollution, better diet, and increased exercise. As the modelling study projects into future possible scenarios, they also note that the estimates relied on various assumptions of future demographic and socio-economic trends.

The health benefits of strengthened NDC commitments are generated through both direct climate change mitigation as well as supporting actions to reduce exposure to harmful pollutants, improve diets and enable safe physical activity.

Read the full content of the Lancet Planetary Health issue below: