Alexandra Hammond, Associate Director, Sustainability.
Today’s landmark report from the Lancet sets out clearly that public health in the UK and across the globe relies directly on the prioritisation of measures to reduce the scale of impact from climate change. It follows that for those of us working in the UK public sector, there is a need to take action to deliver on the co-benefits of a healthy climate.
The Lancet’s Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health focuses on the myriad opportunities for health improvement that tackling climate change offers. The authors point out that working to prevent and prepare for the effects of climate change, such as overheating, flooding and forced migration in many cases leads to “no-regret” options, which reduce pressures on health budgets, enhance community resilience, alleviate poverty and address global inequity.
I’m encouraged by the positive messaging of this report, which contrasts with the 2009 Lancet reportManaging the health effects of climate change that led with the frightening statement that climate change is the “biggest threat to human health this century”. That messaging was appropriate at a time when governments, influencers, and the public were yet to be diagnosed with an acute case of “climate doom and gloom” fatigue that led so many to feel powerless against the effects of climate change. A different approach is required now, which is to focus on how all of us can benefit from taking practical action to improve lives, reduce living costs, bring people and communities closer together, enhance wellbeing, improve longevity and create sustainable economies.
The report focuses on the role of governments to address these issues, which I applaud, particularly as the COP21 talks in Paris later this year approach, but there is also a role for those who can take action today. The report calls upon on those working in the health care community to use their influence to make positive change for individuals, as well as communities by encouraging low-carbon lifestyle choices, as well as collaborate across government departments to create a public health culture that focuses on the benefits of addressing climate change.
Another exciting recommendation is to support accurate quantification of the avoided burden of disease, reduced health-care costs, and enhanced economic productivity associated with climate change mitigation. Assigning a value to health and avoided harm is critical in the business case behind taking action on climate change.
There are several key findings within this report, but there are two that I believe the public sector can take action on right away. These are:
1. The responsibility of those with influence to take advantage of and realise the co-benefits of health and climate change, such as air quality, better health from active travel such as cycling, and more cash available for health investments through reductions in utility spend.
2. To integrate sustainable development into everyday business by encouraging improvements in air quality, a transition towards renewable energy and influencing individuals to adopt healthy lifestyles that also reduce impact on the planet. Those working in healthcare have a particularly important role to play in this.