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Climate change threatens to undermine 50 years of gains in development and health, but timely action could make it this century’s “greatest global health opportunity,” states a report by the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change.

In 2009, the UCL–Lancet Commission on Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change called climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” In its 2015 report just released, a new multidisciplinary international Lancet Commission reaches the same conclusion, adding that tackling climate change could be the greatest global opportunity of the 21st century.

The report underlines the simple fact that a strong climate change agreement is the most effective global public health tool of this century.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

I congratulate the Commission for a comprehensive, ambitious, and forward looking set of recommendations, and encourage national Ministries of Health, and all health professionals, to consider each of them carefully.

Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization

Key findings

• Achieving a decarbonized global economy and securing the public health benefits it offers is no longer primarily a technical or economic question—it is now a political one

• Many mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change are “no-regret” options, leading to direct reductions in the burden of ill-health

• Affordable renewable energy will have huge benefits for the most vulnerable to climate change

• Early action to address vulnerability allows for flexibility before we face indispensable and involuntary adaptation

• Mitigating climate change not only significantly reduces this risk, but can also yield substantial health co-benefits

• What is optimum today (without regard for the future) will not be optimal if the future is to be taken into account. Low prevention costs now means very high treatment costs later

• If a large part of the costs of climate-change mitigation and adaptation is offset by improved health of the existing population, and if unabated climate change is itself a major health risk, investment in such actions is clearly an attractive and sensible proposition

• A 2°C global warming limit implies global average emissions close to 2 tCO2 per capita by mid-century. Local governments, civil society, and businesses aim to bring about social and economic transformation

• Stabilizing the atmosphere requires reducing net emissions to zero. A healthy patient cannot continue with indefinitely rising levels of a toxin in the blood

• There are opportunities for political leaders to grasp the global challenge with transformative climate initiatives of a scale and ambition to match the Marshall plan, the Apollo space programme, and the commercial success of mobile telephony.

The Commission represents a collaboration between European and Chinese climate scientists and geographers, social and environmental scientists, biodiversity experts, engineers and energy policy experts, economists, political scientists and public policy experts, and health professionals—all seeking a response to climate change that is designed to protect and promote human health.


Photo credit: Kris Krug

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