Meeting Paris goals and phasing out fossil fuels could save “millions of lives”

Two new scientific assessments reported by the Guardian say that climate action could save “millions of lives” through clean air, diet and exercise. Research from the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change looked at the health impact of boosting national climate action plans to meet the Paris targets and avoid dangerous climate change across nine countries, including the US, China, Brazil and the UK.

The world is currently off track to meet the Paris goals, but the research found that stronger commitments to curb temperature rises in line with the international agreement would also have significant benefits for health. Across all nine countries, implementing national climate plans that meet the Paris goals could save 5.8 million lives due to better diet; 1.2 million lives due to cleaner air; and 1.2 million lives due to increased exercise.

Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was responsible for 8.7 million deaths globally in 2018, a staggering one in five of all people who died that year, according to a second research study in collaboration between scientists at Harvard University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London.

Countries with the highest consumption of fossil fuels to power factories, homes and vehicles are suffering the highest death tolls, with the study finding that more than one in 10 deaths in both the US and Europe were caused by the resulting pollution, along with nearly a third of deaths in eastern Asia, which includes China. Death rates in South America and Africa were significantly lower. The death toll exceeds the combined total of people who die globally each year from smoking tobacco and those who die of malaria.

Scientists have established links between pervasive air pollution from burning fossil fuels and cases of hear disease, respiratory ailments, and even the loss of eyesight. Without fossil fuel emissions, the average life expectancy of the world’s population would increase by more than a year, while global economic and health costs would fall by about 2.9 trillion dollars.

Compiled by Reinhold Pape

In this issue