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Call for health professionals to act on climate change

Call for health professionals to act on climate change

News Release issued by the COI News Distribution Service on 23 November 2009

Health should be at the centre of our fight against climate change, Health Secretary, Andy Burnham will say today (Wednesday) at the launch of a new report on Health and Climate Change.

The report calls on health ministers and professionals across the world to recognise the danger that climate change poses to health, in the run up to the UN conference in Copenhagen in December.

Key findings in the report show that:

changes towards a low carbon transport system could reduce the health impacts of urban air pollution and physical inactivity; housing insulation can reduce deaths from both extreme cold and heat; changes in farming practice to reduce livestock and overall meat consumption could improve health by lowering the intake of saturated fat; andin poor countries, a reduced need to burn solid fuel indoors could have a significant impact on child and maternal health by cutting indoor air pollution.

Speaking at the launch Andy Burnham will pledge to bring the human health cost of climate change to the forefront of the debate, to prevent the dramatic impact on people’s lives. He will highlight the ‘human face’ of climate change in a world where rising sea levels are already displacing communities, and increased temperature is causing malaria to spread up hills and mountains.

The Health Secretary will make the case for policies that improve health as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to help ‘tip the balance in favour of ambitious climate change action’.

Andy Burnham said:

"Climate change can seem a distant, impersonal threat - in fact, the associated costs to health are a very real and present danger.

“Health Ministers across the globe must act now to highlight the risk global warming poses to the health of our communities. We need well-designed climate change policies that drive health benefits.

“This is a landmark year for climate change, with the world coming together at the Copenhagen conference in December. The call to action does not end there – this is the start of a journey in which small but committed changes can make a significant difference to global health.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband said;

“Climate change is a serious threat to public health. To protect the world’s health we must stop dangerous climate change happening and limit temperature increases to no more than 2°C. An ambitious and fair deal in Copenhagen will not only have major benefits in terms of reducing the climate change related spread of infectious diseases and risks to food supply, but will also result in immediate green benefits in terms of a healthier environment and lifestyle for a low carbon Britain – and a low carbon world.

“This is why we are going to Copenhagen to secure an ambitious, effective and fair deal for everyone. “

International Development Minister, Mike Foster said:

"Climate change and health are two of the biggest barriers to tackling poverty - they go hand in hand. It is a sad irony that the people who have contributed the least to global carbon emissions are the first to suffer the consequences of climate change.

"If we don't take action now the consequences for the world's poor will be devastating. By 2080 climate change could mean an extra 600 million people worldwide are affected by malnutrition, an extra 400 million people could be exposed to malaria and an extra 1.8 billion people could be living without enough water. That is why the UK is pushing for an ambitious global deal at Copenhagen that works not just for us, but also for the world's poorest people.”

Key findings of the report, are:

Saturated fat: Efficiency improvements in the food and agriculture sector must be accompanied by a 30 per cent reduction in livestock in high-producing countries to meet climate change targets. If this translates into reduced meat consumption, the amount of saturated fat consumed would drop sharply, which would have positive effects on health through reductions in heart disease.

Urban land transport: Cutting emissions through more walking and cycling, and reducing motor vehicle use, would bring substantial health benefits including reduced cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes and dementia.

Household energy use: In low-income countries, inefficient traditional solid fuel stoves create very high levels of indoor air pollutants – leading to a variety of heart and respiratory problems as well as producing greenhouse pollutants. National programmes to introduce low-emission stove technology could avert millions of premature deaths, and constitute one of the strongest and most cost-effective climate-health linkages.

Short-lived greenhouse pollutants: These – including sulphate and black carbon – account for a substantial portion of global warming and also have significant health impacts. A reduction in the emissions of black carbon and ozone precursors would offer almost immediate benefits. Evidence relating to sulphate particles is more mixed.Carbon-based energy: Decreasing the proportion of carbon-based electricity generation would lead to significant health benefits worldwide. Middle-income countries such as India and China would see the largest benefit, but developed nations such as the EU states would also see health gains. The costs of these changes would be significantly offset by reduced costs of death from air pollution, especially in China and India.

Notes to Editors

The Lancet report, which was part-funded by the Department of Health, the Wellcome Tust, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, The National Institute for Health Research, US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, The Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Royal College of Physicians is available at:

The conference, held at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine was linked with a simultaneous event in Washington. A summary of findings, a podcast and video footage will be available at

The report models the effects of different policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in high and low-income countries. Case studies focus on power generation, transport, household energy, food and agriculture.


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