Health benefits far exceed costs of climate change mitigation: Report

A report showed that immediate climate action brings health benefits such as fewer air-pollution and heat-related illnesses. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE - Renewable energy ends up being much cheaper than fossil fuels when the health benefits of phasing out pollutive coal are taken into consideration by policymakers.

For example, the overall health impacts of nuclear power plants are far less harmful compared with those of fossil fuel technologies, studies have shown.

Shifting to a lower- or zero-emission energy sector has many benefits, including cleaner air, and fewer cases of respiratory-related illnesses and sick days off work.

Such an understanding of the health benefits and risks of various emission-reducing solutions will help countries prioritise their climate mitigation policies, said an Australia-based healthcare coalition in a 19-page report last week.

The coalition, called the Climate and Health Alliance, fleshed out the hidden health messages from a recent 3,000-page report on climate change mitigation by the United Nations' top climate science body - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC Working Group III report, which was released last month, covered all aspects of climate change mitigation efforts and their progress so far.

"Health benefits alone far exceed the costs of climate actions," said the alliance's chief executive, Mr Roland Sapsford.

The climate-health messages were crafted in bite-size summaries to show governments and policymakers that immediate climate action brings health benefits such as fewer air-pollution and heat-related illnesses, and better mental health without the trauma of living through extreme weather events.

Emission reduction policies are particularly effective when they are designed with other benefits in mind, such as health and poverty reduction, said the coalition's report, titled Climate Action For A Healthy Future.

For example, if cities - which produce more than 60 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions - were redesigned to be more walkable and greener, residents would be spurred to become more active, reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

The report was prepared by the alliance together with its sister organisation, The Global Climate and Health Alliance, and the Health and Climate Network.

Mr Sapsford cited the current record-breaking heatwave in India as an example of a deadly health risk populations already face from climate change.

An early and scorching summer in India this year led to the country recording its hottest March in 122 years. And in April, New Delhi had seven consecutive days with the mercury crossing 40 deg C.

The heatwave caused heatstroke-related deaths, threatened wheat harvests and worsened the nation's power crisis.

Said Mr Sapsford: "The heatwave also highlights a crucial point... the most marginalised groups are suffering first and worst from the health impacts. Action we take to tackle climate change should also reduce health inequity and support vulnerable communities."

Singapore will also face climate change challenges. A 2021 report in scientific journal The Lancet said countries such as Singapore, which rank high or very high on the human development index, are most vulnerable to increased dengue outbreaks and heat extremes.

Warmer weather enables the Aedes mosquito to breed faster. Singapore's dengue cases this year are already climbing at a fast rate, with more than 6,600 cases in four months, even before the June to October peak dengue season.

And more vulnerable groups such as elderly people living in less ventilated conditions, and construction workers, would be more susceptible to heat stress.

Mr Sapsford emphasised that it is the role of health professionals, who are trusted by people, to communicate the link between climate and health.

"By advocating decisive climate action now, the health sector can both spur faster action and save lives," he said.

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