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GLOBAL: Good for health and reducing global warming
Two million people die from indoor air pollution every year
Johannesburg, 27 November 2009 (IRIN) - Eat less meat, have smaller herds of animals, switch to more efficient stoves that pollute less, and develop more sustainable public transport systems are some of the lifestyle changes and technical fixes that could save millions of lives and reduce global warming.
This is the message in a series of studies
published by a group of scientists in the respected British medical journal, The Lancet, to make a case for health at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen (COP15)
, starting on 7 December 2009.
Each study focuses on one sector where greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced, including household energy use, urban land transport, electricity generation, and food and agriculture. The effect on health of short-lived greenhouse pollutants, produced by several sectors, is also reviewed.
Reducing preventable deaths is the aim: two million people die from indoor air pollution every year; 1.2 from outdoor air pollution; 1.3 million from road traffic injuries.
Each study examines the health implications of actions to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in high- and low-income countries. Supplying cleaner household energy to the poor and raising the fitness levels of the 3.2 million who die every year from physical inactivity would be simple solutions, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, a scientist with the World Health Organization and a contributor to the studies, told IRIN.
"We [health professionals] cannot become spectators," said Mike Gill, of the University of Surrey, a co-author of a study that urged doctors to discuss climate change with patients.
"We have the evidence, a good story to tell that dramatically shifts the lens through which climate change is perceived, and we have public trust," He wrote with co-author Robin Stott.
Paul Wilkinson, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is the lead author of a study suggesting that one the most cost-effective climate-health linkages - implementing national programmes that offer low-emission stove technology for burning local biomass fuels in poor countries - could avert millions of premature deaths.
|We have the evidence, a good story to tell that dramatically shifts the lens through which climate change is perceived, and we have public trust
"The cleaner cook-stove technology means that the same fuel can be burnt with greater efficiency but much lower exposure to particle pollution in the indoor air. It does not add to the cost of fuel, but does entail cost for the stove itself. This is only about US$50, however, and could be subsidized, of course," he told IRIN.
"There could be additional benefits from access to electricity or other 'clean' [by comparison to the incomplete burning of biomass fuel] sources, but the costs and effects are more complex to quantify."
Gill and Stott recommended setting up a low-carbon development fund of at least US$150 billion to help developing countries implement some of the clean energy strategies.
The money could be raised by imposing a $5 tax on each of the 20 billion barrels of oil used every year by the 30 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and a tax on airline tickets.
Eat less meat
The food and agriculture sector contributes 10 percent to 12 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide said Sharon Friel, of the Australian National University, and Alan Dangour, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in a study calling for a 30-percent reduction in livestock production. This would lower emissions, while less intake of animal saturated fat would improve health.
"By 2030, rising demand for meat, especially in countries with transition economies, is expected to drive up livestock production by 85 percent from that in 2000, which will lead to further substantial increases in emissions," Friel and Dangour noted.
However, the advantages of reduced animal-source food production may apply only in countries with high production levels; livestock production and the consumption of animal-source products, and the associated emissions, are still relatively low in many low-income countries. The "pending challenge in public health is to ensure access to a diet of sufficient quantity and quality for all populations", they commented.
Globally, production per head of energy, fats, proteins, and micronutrients had increased, and was enough to meet everyone's needs, yet almost a billion people have protein-energy undernutrition, most of whom are also undernourished in micronutrients and minerals, such as iron and zinc, said Friel and Dangour.
Andrew Haines, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, suggested that "In view of the trillions of dollars likely to be spent on greenhouse gas mitigation in the coming decades, the relatively small resources needed to guide investments along paths bringing the world closer to its health and climate goals would be money well spent."