Coming on the heels of the EPA’s somewhat dubious report on how mitigating climate change can bring benefits to the U.S., the Lancet’s reports on the health effects of climate change was sure to bring criticism. And indeed, skeptics have jumped on it, especially Bishop Hill. That’s probably because the Lancet Commision imputes a large figure for increased mortality and morbidity due to the modest warming we have already experienced. I look at their figures and wonder how on Earth they arrived at them–but I don’t intend to dwell on them in this post, as I consider the bulk of their report a very positive contribution to the discussion.
The report starts off by echoing Bjorn Lomborg and The Breakthrough Institute:
“The reduction of poverty and inequities in health is essential to the management of health effects of climate change. Vulnerability of poor populations will be caused by greater exposure and sensitivity to climate changes and reduced adaptive capacity. Investment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals will not only reduce vulnerability but also release public expenditure for climate change currently consumed by basic prevention strategies (eg, malaria control). Health-oriented and climate-orientated investments in food security, safe water supply, improved buildings, reforestation, disaster risk assessments, community mobilisation, and essential maternal and child health and family planning services, will all produce dividends in adaptation to climate change.”
“Poverty alleviation and climate adaptation measures will be crucial in reducing population growth in countries where demographic transition (to stable and low fertility and death rates) is delayed. Population growth will increase overall emissions in the long term and expand the number of vulnerable individuals (and thus the potential burden of suffering) greatly.”
“The application of existing technologies is as important as the development of new ones. Nonetheless, technological development is needed to boost food output, to maintain the integrity of ecosystems, and to improve agricultural and food system practices (agriculture is responsible for an estimated 22% of greenhouse gas emissions), to improve systems for safely storing and treating water, to use alternative supplies of water, for waste water recycling and desalination, and for water conserving technologies. It is also needed to create buildings that are energy efficient and use low-carbon construction materials; to allow for planning settlements, and to develop software of planning and land use; to increase regional and local climate modelling, creating effective early warning systems, and the application of geographic information systems; and to ensure the provision of existing health and family planning services at high coverage, and thus ensure the rights of individuals and couples to have good health outcomes and access to voluntary family planning methods.”
However, it’s interesting to note that a paper published in Lancet at the same time as their report focuses on reducing SLCPs or Short Lived Climate Pollutants, which produce a strong global warming effect but have relatively brief atmospheric lifetimes. These include black carbon, ozone and methane. (They didn’t mention HFCs, hydrofluorocarbons, the other SLCP, I don’t know why.)
This is essentially the primary target of those advocating Fast Mitigation. Fast Mitigation advocates claim that 1.6C of whatever warming we will face can be eliminated by the end of the century, compared to 0.1C of warming avoided by strategies to reduce CO2 emissions. (They still favor reducing CO2 emissions for longer term benefits.)
The report intelligently notes (they must have been reading Paul Kelly) that “Mitigation of SLCPs can provide health benefits in three ways. First, a decrease in black carbon and its coemissions, or emissions of ozone precursors, will reduce the substantial health burden attributable to air pollution. This reduction is a direct route to climate and health cobenefits and is most often the focus of policy discussion. Air quality improvements, from implementation of nine proposed mitigation actions targeting black carbon assessed by the UN Environment Programme and World Meteorological Organization, are estimated to prevent about 2·4 million deaths annually. Reduction in ozone exposure can also benefit health because it is responsible for roughly 150 000 deaths annually worldwide.
Second, the indirect effects of emission reductions can yield cobenefits. For instance, ozone and black carbon cause warming and decrease agricultural yields, thus threatening food security for poor individuals; ozone is toxic to many plants, whereas black carbon diminishes the amount and quality of sunlight available for photosynthesis.
Third, health benefits directly related to some SLCP mitigation actions can accrue independently of reduced air pollution. For example, in affluent populations, improved diets with reduced consumption of red and processed meat, together with increased consumption of plant-based foods, especially fruit and vegetables, can improve health, lessen demand for land, and reduce emissions of SLCPs.“
They also advocate other methods of improving our health and reducing emissions, such as low impact travel such as bicycling or lower levels of meat consumption, etc., which improve health in several ways–improved cardiovascular health, lower particulate pollution, etc.
From a Lukewarmer point of view this all makes very good sense and I endorse the findings completely–for this section. (I haven’t read the rest of it yet.) They amount to the next logical step after ‘no regrets’ actions such as increasing energy efficiency, etc. As part of an intelligent, staged approach to combating human-caused climate change it fits in with my RAMA initiative, where we start the climate debate over and address outstanding Recognition and Attribution issues and agree on implementing Mitigation and Adaptation strategies.
I am going to read the rest of Lancet’s contribution–I don’t know why the skeptics are jumping all over it. Maybe this was the only part that made sense. I’ll update this post when I’ve finished it.
For now, though, I think Lancet should be congratulated on their contribution. I wish the EPA had done as good a job.