Our Work Climate Change Lancet series on health and climate change

Lancet series on health and climate change

The major aim of Doctors for the Environment Australia for the past few years has been to educate our colleagues, their patients and governments on the health aspects of climate change. The wealth of knowledge in this issue of the Lancet indicates the distance travelled by colleagues in many countries. To those of you actively involved in the area there will be little new in content but there is perspective and resolve. I see the series as an educative review for the profession and health workers. Professor Andy Haines, Chairman of the taskforce says

“We call on health professionals to reach beyond conventional professional boundaries to collaborate with policy makers and scientists concerned with the study, development, and implementation of policies and technologies to mitigate climate change.”

The scientific data confirming climate change and its impacts is overwhelming. Lacking is political will and leadership for appropriate action. Similarly the health impacts have been apparent for some years with little government acknowledgement and appropriate action.  The “call” requires not least a sea-change in our profession to show personal example and responsibility in life style. Our campaigns testify to the difficulties, for we have tested the waters in the four main areas detailed in the Lancet Series. These are household energy use, urban land transport, electricity generation, and food and agriculture. Our conclusions are that the vast majority of our colleagues in Australia are yet to head the call. This should not be an excuse for pessimism but for resolve and hard work. We must aim to reach the tipping point of cultural change before the other climate change tipping points are upon us!

The Executive Summary of the Lancet Series has a positive message for the profession “The threat of climate change has generated a global flood of policy documents, suggested technical fixes, and lifestyle recommendations. One widely held view is that their implementation would, almost without exception, prove socially uncomfortable and economically painful. But as a series of new studies shows, in one domain at least—public health—such a view is ill founded. If properly chosen, action to combat climate change can, of itself, lead to improvements in health. The news is not all bad”.

Climate change will harm human health, and successful strategies to mitigate the extent of the change will restrict that harm. But new studies published in The Lancet show that appropriate mitigation strategies will themselves have additional and independent effects on health, most of them beneficial. The potential value of these co-benefits has not so far been given sufficient prominence in international negotiations.

The Lancet studies, supported by a global partnership of funders, were undertaken by an international team of researchers with the aim of informing discussions at the 2009 Copenhagen conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Authored by an international group of public health, environmental, and other scientists, each focuses on one sector in which greenhouse-gas emissions need to be reduced. These sectors are household energy use, urban land transport, electricity generation, and food and agriculture. A fifth study reviews the effect on health of short-lived green-house pollutants, which are produced in several sectors.

Each study examines the health implications of actions in both high-income and low-income countries designed to reduce the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. In line with the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, each would yield reductions by 2030 that are broadly consistent with the aim of meeting a global 50% reduction target (compared with 1990) by 2050, and an 80% reduction in emissions for high-income countries.

Key messages are

  •  Measures to restrict our output of greenhouse gases may also result in benefits to public health
  •  These co-benefits will offset at least some of the costs of climate change mitigation, and should be taken into account in international negotiations
  •  The co-benefits to health arising from action on climate change are not widely appreciated. A greater awareness might sweeten the otherwise bitter taste of some climate change policies

Read the full Executive Summary at

The full series of articles is available at http://www.thelancet.com/series/health-and-climate-change