Climate action "will benefit health"

World Health Organisation calls for action focused on cutting fossil fuel emissions

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning will have "immediate health benefits," the World Health Organisation (WHO) claimed today, in a report launched at the ongoing climate summit in the Hague.

According to WHO, "strategic climate policies" could prevent about 8m deaths that would otherwise occur between 2000 and 2020 due to air pollution caused by burning coal, oil and natural gas in energy production, transport and industry. It warned that climate change also posed health risks from extreme weather events and vector or waterborne disease due to altered weather patterns.

Cutting fossil fuel burning is key, WHO argues. Its new study, prepared by Nino Künzli of the Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine in Switzerland, concludes that "the most efficient programmes for reducing greenhouse gases are also programmes for clean air," particularly those focusing on transport emissions. "The greatest health benefits will stem from integrated policies covering technology, urban planning, the speed and safety of traffic, quality of life and the promotion of walking, cycling and the use of public transport," it states.

Launching the report today, WHO stressed that the potential health benefits of climate protection measures would be lost if countries used carbon sinks to achieve protocol targets rather than aggressively cutting fossil fuel emissions. "Sinks don't reduce carbon dioxide or air pollution, so you don't get the benefits we're talking about here," said Corrado Clini of WHO's European environmental and health committee.

Follow Up:
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, tel: +39 348 400 1097. See also a press release.

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