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Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement could save about a million lives a year worldwide by 2050 through reductions in air pollution alone, says the World Health Organization. The latest estimates indicate that the value of health gains from climate action would be approximately double the cost of mitigation policies at global level, and the benefits are even higher in countries such as China and India.

The COP24 Special Report on Health and Climate Change by WHO, launched last Wednesday at the UN Climate Talks COP24 in Katowice, highlights why health considerations are critical to the advancement of climate action and outlines key recommendations for policy makers.

“If we don’t tackle the issues of climate change and air pollution we will have extremely negative consequences for humanity”, said Michał Kurtyka, president of the COP during the launch event of the report at COP24.

Michał Kurtyka, President of COP24

The report states that 7 million deaths are caused worldwide because of air pollution which represents an estimated cost of US$ 5.11 trillion in welfare losses globally. In the 15 countries that emit the most greenhouse gas emissions, the health impacts of air pollution are estimated to cost more than 4% of their GDP. Actions to meet the Paris goals would cost around 1% of global GDP.

“The Paris Agreement is potentially the strongest health agreement of this century,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “The evidence is clear that climate change is already having a serious impact on human lives and health. It threatens the basic elements we all need for good health – clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply and safe shelter – and will undermine decades of progress in global health. We can’t afford to delay action any further.”

“We should make the climate flight the air pollution fight and the healthier live-styles fight”, says Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum from WHO. The report highlights that the same human activities that are destabilizing the Earth’s climate also contribute directly to poor health: the main driver of climate change is fossil fuel combustion which is also a major contributor to air pollution.

Switching to low-carbon energy sources will not only improve air quality but provide additional opportunities for immediate health benefits. For example, introducing active transport options such as cycling will help increase physical activity that can help prevent diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

The Health and Climate Change Report also provides recommendations on how to maximize the health benefits of tackling climate change and avoid the worst health impacts of this global challenge.

The report calls for countries to account for health in all cost-benefit analyses of climate change mitigation. It also recommends that countries use fiscal incentives such as carbon pricing and energy subsidies to incentivize sectors to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, and encourages the countries to remove existing barriers to supporting climate-resilient health systems.

Download the report here.

Andrea Garcia Salinas

About Andrea Garcia Salinas

Latin America Campaigner and videographer for Climate Tracker. Andrea is a Communicator for Development from Perú. She has worked in conservation and climate awareness with youth initiatives in Latin America. Currently studying a M.A. in International Development at Sciences Po Paris. @dellazule