|Reducing climate change is good for your health|
More 'climate-friendly' investments in transport, energy and housing could help prevent significant noncommunicable disease, WHO review finds
Washington, D.C., 14 June 2011 (PAHO/WHO) - Greener investments in transport, housing and household energy policies can help prevent significant cardiovascular and chronic respiratory disease, obesity-related conditions and cancers.
These are among the findings of a new global World Health Organization series that looks systematically, for the first time ever, at the health 'co-benefits' of investments in climate change mitigation reviewed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Overall, sustainable development policies in housing, transport, and household energy may benefit health right away – even if the broader climate gains are realized over years or decades.
The new WHO series, Health in the Green Economy, finds that the health sector needs to become stronger advocates for those green economic investments that prevent disease at the outset.
On the other hand, climate experts, including the IPCC, which is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, need to put health at the center of mitigation efforts, the series also recommends.
"Some climate change mitigation measures yield broader health gains than others," says Dr Maria Neira, director of WHO's Department of Public Health and Environment. "Potential health benefits -- as well as certain risks -- should be considered more systematically in climate assessments. And if that is done, we can identify strategies that are truly win-win."
In the case of more climate-friendly housing, the immediate savings in health care costs from home energy-efficiencies and home insulation programmes may be so large that they could rapidly repay investments made – even if savings in greenhouse gas emissions take longer to realize. The report on housing, the first full report of the series to be issued, was released on 14 June at the annual meeting of the Global Health Council in Washington, DC.
Many forms of asthma and allergies, as well as heart disease and strokes related to increasingly intense heat waves and cold spells could be addressed by more climate-friendly housing measures, the report finds.
However more weather-tight housing can introduce some new health risks – unless adequate fresh air ventilation is assured. The report also found that not enough attention is being paid to the housing risks of rapidly growing developing cities, and how more climate-friendly housing and urban design could improve the health of the poor, as well as reduce climate change.
WHO's Health in the Green Economy series is looking at climate change mitigation and "green growth" strategies in five economic sectors: transport, housing, health care facilities, household energy in developing countries, and agriculture.
As other examples of "best buys" for health, initial findings from reviews of other sectors identify considerable evidence that:
"The bottom line is that people can try to practice healthy diets and healthy lifestyles. But we also need a supportive environment," says Dr Luiz Galvao, Manager, Sustainable Development and Environmental Health, of the Pan American Health Organization/WHO.
"In our busy lives, not everyone has time or money to go to the gym. But if we live in a healthy house and in a city where we can easily and safely walk or cycle to work, and get regular exercise just by moving around outdoors, this can make an enormous difference to our lifestyle and our overall health.”
Currently, the health care sector is beset with soaring health care costs for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, cancers and a range of other obesity and non-communicable disease conditions.
And 80% of such chronic disease is now occurring in lower income countries, where urban growth is driving rapid slum expansion, soaring traffic volumes, air and water pollution and rates of traffic injury.
"People really cannot make healthy lifestyle choices – unless they have a healthier environment," Dora observes. "So we, as health professionals, need to promote basic environmental measures that cost the health sector very little, and can avoid many subsequent years of treatment. And these health savings an be captured immediately – while the climate benefits accumulate for the future."
Other key findings:
The complete Housing report and other briefs from the Health in Green Economy series can be found on WHO's website.
Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization