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COMBATING CLIMATE CHANGE
BRINGS HEALTH BENEFITS

At a special meeting at the COP6 climate change talks in the Hague, the World Health Organization said that new research indicates that reducing greenhouse gases through the transport, energy and industry sectors would have immediate health benefits.

"We are not just talking about taking measures to avoid the health risks that climate change will bring, such as diseases or death from extreme weather events, and vector, food or water borne diseases that arise from altered climates" says Dr Roberto Bertollini, Director of Technical Services, WHO Europe. " It is now clear that taking strong and pre-emptive measures that directly reduce greenhouse gases will also result in other immediate and important health benefits for us all, for example through cleaner air. Taking measures now to limit the damage from climate change will bring immediate benefits to our health. This is a win-win strategy."

A new Swiss study on climate change scenarios demonstrates that the most efficient greenhouse gas reduction programmes are also clean air programmes. "The climate change strategies that will benefit health positively are those in which countries directly target fossil fuel emissions", says the author of the study, Dr Nino Künzli of the Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine, Basel. "The largest health benefits will stem from integrated policies, taking into account technology, urban planning, speed, safety, quality of life, self-sustained mobility and public transport." A recent three-country European study of which Dr Künzli was joint author, found that 6% of deaths are caused by air pollution, thus killing many more people than traffic accidents.

Air pollutants from fossil fuels currently damage health: when air pollution is eased, prompt health benefits follow. Globally, it has been estimated that about 8 million deaths between the year 2000 and 2020 could be avoided by strategic climate policies, as opposed to a "business-as-usual" scenario.

Road transport is a key target area to achieve benefits both in reducing greenhouse gas emission, and in curbing other transport-related health impacts, such as those resulting from other air pollutants, noise, accidents and reduced opportunities for physical exercise through walking and cycling . Transport is at the moment the fastest growing source of CO2 emissions. About 26% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the Europe Union are caused by the transport sector, and they show an upward trend. Emissions from transport in the EU increased by 30% between 1985 and 1996, and the projected increase in passenger car transport in the EU is a further 30% increase by 2010 despite the targets in the Kyotoc Protocol.

Written by: European Center for Environment and Health


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