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Posts Tagged ‘Lancet’

By Dr Mala Rao

With just days to go for the United Nations Climate Change conference to begin, one can hardly avoid getting caught up with the intense speculation in the media as to what the outcome of the Copenhagen discussions will be.

Scientific evidence that the continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions is resulting in the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) must form the foundation for a global policy to avert climate catastrophe and to establish a lower carbon economy. We owe this to our youth and to future generations. And this is why I am delighted to have been invited to address the Andhra Pradesh chapter of the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN) next week, and to enhance their knowledge of the health impacts of climate change in India.

Founded in 2008, the IYCN, which is part of the Global Youth Climate Movement, is an impressive coalition of young people concerned about climate change and wanting to contribute to climate solutions. It aims to generate awareness but also provides training on practical action. For example, how to establish and lead grassroots groups in their communities to become better informed about climate change and to contribute to measures such as addressing the environmental degradation which merely serves to reinforce the impacts of climate change. The work of the IYCN in cleaning up polluted lakes and helping with the recent relief effort in flood-affected districts of Andhra Pradesh is truly inspirational.

The IYCN is actively supported by the state government’s Chief Conservator of Forests who has established an impressive e-group entitled AP Environment Connect to link civil society groups, the IYCN, government officials and academics such as myself to share ideas and information on climate solutions. The APEC has arranged a three-day camp next week in Hyderabad, to watch telecasts of live coverage from Copenhagen, interact with India’s representatives at the Summit and to attend a series of presentations on the science, the impacts, the adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. I look forward not only to giving my talk on the health impacts at the camp but to learning about the highly innovative solutions being considered to achieve both economic progress and environmental protection. The optimism, enthusiasm and commitment of the APEC group, and the IYCN in particular, has been evident at past events and I am sure that next week’s will not disappoint.

I also look forward to sharing the new evidence published in The Lancet last week, about how India could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve the health of its population at the same time by encouraging the use of cleaner cooking stoves and establishing urban transport policies which encourage walking and cycling and lower car use. I remain convinced that the health and well-being benefits of a lower carbon economy must be the most politically persuasive argument to advocate for change.

Nine years ago, leaders from 192 countries were sufficiently concerned about international health and social inequalities to agree an ambitious range of Millennium Development Goals, to combat poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease. We must support our global leaders to seize this ‘what did you do in the war, daddy’ moment and demonstrate a similarly collaborative vision at Copenhagen that delivers a blueprint for a lower carbon and a better and more equal world.

  • Dr Mala Rao is Director of the first Indian Institute of Public Health, based in Hyderabad.

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Climate change is so often associated with doom and gloom, so it was a welcome surprise to hear some good news yesterday at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I was attending the launch of the latest publication in the Lancet’s series on health and climate change, which looks at the public health benefits of action taken to reduce the damage we’re doing to our planet.

Ahead of the vital discussions in Copenhagen in two weeks time, it was unsurprising that the event attracted top brass. WHO Director General Dr Margaret Chan, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services all recorded video messages of support. Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham declared it to be the “most important meeting I’ll attend all year”, which hopefully wasn’t far wrong.

The messages presented were no less important. Alongside comprehensive evidence about the severity of the crisis that we are all facing as our planet heats up, the report’s authors outlined the largely positive impacts upon our health that will result from taking decisive action to avert global warming. Professor Sir Andrew Haines and his team looked at four key areas in which strategies are being developed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: household energy, urban land transport, low-carbon electricity generation, and food and agriculture.

They found that many of these measures will impact positively on the public’s health. For example, a transport policy that enables people to walk or cycle more will not only reduce carbon emissions, but also result in lower cardiovascular disease as a result of more active lifestyles. Better insulated houses will result in warmer homes, reducing the number of deaths in winter. A reduction in the amount of meat in our diets would not only reduce methane emissions from livestock, but reduce ischaemic heart disease.

The models that the researchers explored included those in developing nations. For instance, the simple carbon stoves used by the poorest half of the world’s households are inefficient and produce airborne particles, including black carbon, and cause respiratory problems in adults and children alike. Replacing the old stoves with new, cleaner and more fuel efficient stoves over a ten year period in India would reduce the burden of these problems by a sixth, the equivalent to eliminating nearly half the country’s entire cancer burden. The message is clear: what is good for the planet is good for health.

It was an unusual feeling to walk out of a climate change meeting feeling positive about the future. It’s very easy to feel hopeless when confronted with the terrifying reality of where our world could be heading, but this event, and the accompanying publication, provides cause for optimism.

Fear paralyses, but hope energises. Let’s make sure that politicians remember these strong messages about health and climate change when they sit down in Copenhagen on 7 December.

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