A healthy future – tackling climate change mitigation and human health together

A report from the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) and the Royal Society summarises the evidence of how climate change mitigation actions could promote human health in the near term, through ‘co-benefits’.

Climate change poses serious, and potentially catastrophic, threats to human health and to the natural systems that underpin civilisation, with increasing impacts witnessed on a global scale in recent years. However, if the drivers and impacts of climate change are effectively addressed, there are substantial opportunities for climate action to benefit human health.

This report (PDF) summarises the evidence of how climate change mitigation actions could promote human health in the near term, through ‘co-benefits’. The main health co-benefits of climate mitigation or net-zero policies stem from actions to phase out fossil fuels, implement more energy-efficient housing, promote healthier dietary choices, and encourage more active travel (walking and cycling). Other benefits can accrue from providing healthy and productive employment opportunities and greater access to nature.

There may also be trade-offs and potential unintended consequences of climate action on human health, for example uncertainties around green technologies and jobs, and exporting negative health impacts to other countries and exacerbating inequalities. 

The report makes four headline recommendations:

  1. Incorporating health into the climate narrative 
  2. Integrating climate adaptation and mitigation policies to benefit health
  3. Developing metrics to assess health impacts
  4. Promoting transdisciplinary systems approaches to address the complex interaction between climate change mitigation and health

Following its Presidency of COP26, the UK Government has an opportunity to take global leadership in promoting human health in all actions taken to address climate change, and to demonstrate the health gains which can accompany the net-zero transition.

As part of this project, a series of three roundtables were held. The meeting notes are listed here and do not necessarily represent the views of the Royal Society. The first roundtable ‘The Green Recovery’ (PDF) was held in March 2021. The second and third roundtables, focusing on ‘A just and healthy transition’ (PDF) to net-zero and ‘Behavioural change’ (PDF) respectively were held in May 2021.   

Professor Sir Andy Haines FMedSci (project co-chair) explains how climate action could benefit human health in the near-term.

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Explore some of the Royal Society's key work on climate change around COP, the United Nations climate change conference.