Report challenges debate on climate change versus economic growth

Nick Wood, director of Climate Policy Research, comments on the recent publication: ‘Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health” by The Lancet Commission.

At first glance, the findings of the report are unsurprising. It is a solid and well-rounded analysis of the risks to global health from climate change:  The sort of thing that you would expect from the UK’s pre-eminent medical journal with contributions from the UK and Europe’s top academics, with an excellent 3 minute video summarising the findings.

Source: Lancet Commission
Source: Lancet Commission

However, when you read the report in detail, it becomes very obvious that it is much more than that.  The research introduces a critical element into the debate; that of the risk to health from economic growth based on fossil fuels.

“The effects of climate change are being felt today, and future projections represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health” – Lancet Commission’s ‘Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health’


The involvement of African and Chinese academics in the research provides a development perspective (often missed in the developed world debates) and their message is clear:  The combination of urbanisation, the effects of climate change and economic growth based upon access to cheap fossil fuel (the main plank in the argument that coal is good for humanity because it provides cheap energy for developing nations) risks reversing half a century of gains in development and global health.

This is no longer a two-sided argument between mitigation and economic growth.

“Protect cardiovascular and respiratory health by ensuring a rapid phase-out of coal from the global energy mix. Many of the 2200 coal-fired plants currently proposed for construction globally will damage health unless replaced with cleaner energy alternatives.” – Lancet Commission’s Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health’


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