Millions of lives could be saved by adopting policies in line with the targets of the Paris Agreement goals and prioritising health. This is according to new research published in The Lancet Planetary Health, from the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change.
The adoption of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) aimed at limiting warming to “well below 2°C” brings staggering health benefits. They offer a pathway to saving 6.4 million lives due to better diet, 1.6 million lives due to cleaner air, and 2.1 million lives due to increased exercise, per year, across nine countries, including India.
The results from the study provide a timely update on the potential benefits of meeting climate goals ahead of the pivotal COP26 talks set to be hosted in November 2021. The countries involved in the study include Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK, and the US. Collectively, they represent fifty percent of the world’s population and seventy percent of the world’s emissions.
Speaking about the findings, lead author Ian Hamilton, executive director of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, said “unlike the direct benefits of carbon mitigation which are ultimately long-term and understood in terms of damage limitation, the health co-benefits of ambitious climate policies have an immediate positive impact.
“The message is stark. Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year, the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health. We have an opportunity now to place health in the forefront of climate change policies to save even more lives.”
Climate goals and health benefits
For India, a key signatory in the Paris agreement and a country deeply vulnerable to climate change, modelling used in the study offers a statistical estimate of the potential health benefits to the population.
Specifically, the study includes two different scenarios. The first, known as the Sustainable Pathways Scenario (SPS), estimated the number of avoidable deaths per 100,000 population should India’s climate efforts align with the commitments of the Paris Agreement to limit warming to “well below 2°C” alongside other targets outlined within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These include SDG2 (zero hunger), SDG3 (good health and wellbeing), SDG7 (affordable and clean energy), and SDG13 (climate action).
By acting to meet these, the country has the potential to save the lives of 433,549 individuals from air pollution-related deaths, 1,741,860 individuals from deaths related to diet, 364,948 from travel-related deaths, in total.
The benefits are even greater when adhering to the health in all climate Policies Scenario (HPS) pathway. This provides estimates of what the future could look like should India seek to systematically take health implications into account for all policy decisions and seek synergies that avoid harm to maximise population health and wellbeing. It builds on the Paris Agreement by maximising ancillary health benefits. This pathway suggests that the lives of 491,756 individuals could be saved from air pollution-related deaths, 1,869,300 from deaths related to diet, 670,230 from travel-related deaths, in total.
Whilst all aspects of these pathways offer insight into the quantifiable health benefits of raising climate ambitions, for India – a country infamous for its challenges with air pollution that are taking a toll on both health and wealth – the research outcomes are particularly revealing.
India’s climate goals ahead of COP26
Whilst Paris signatories are updating and revising their NDCs ahead of COP26 this year, which were due to be submitted before the end of last year, and remain to be announced in the majority of countries, India’s previous agreements include three distinct contributions to climate goals.
Currently, India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) includes a pledge to reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33 to 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2030; ensure forty percent of its installed electricity capacity is renewable or nuclear by 2030; and increase the capacity of its cumulative carbon sink by 2,500-3,000MtCO2e by 2030.
All three pledges present different challenges with transition towards such goals having to take into account realities such as the fact that thirteen percent of India’s population does not yet have access to electricity.
To make the health benefits outlined in the study, there is a need to stress calls for more action. Dr Alastair Brown, editor-in-chief of The Lancet Planetary Health, said “as countries are being asked to increase their level of ambition ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, the coming months represent a key moment in the fight against climate change and an opportunity to improve global health. If there is a need for a deadline to motivate action, we have it and it’s November, 2021.”