A series of six studies published in the medical journal The Lancet have determined that tackling climate change by reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions will have major direct health benefits, in addition to reducing the risk of climate change, especially in low-income countries.
The studies, three of them coauthored by Kirk R. Smith and one coauthored by Michael Jerrett, both from University of California, Berkeley, use case studies to demonstrate the co-benefits of tackling climate change in four sectors: electricity generation, household energy use, transportation, and food and agriculture.
Each study in the series examines the health implications in both high- and low-income countries of actions designed to reduce the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases.
Climate change due to emission of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel energy sources causes air pollution by increasing ground-level ozone and concentrations of fine particulate matter.
"Climate change threatens us all, but its impact will likely be greatest on the poorest communities in every country. Thus, it has been called the most regressive tax in human history. Carefully choosing how we reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have the added benefit of reducing global health inequities, said Smith.
"Policymakers need to know that if they exert their efforts in certain directions, they can obtain important public health benefits as well as climate benefits," he added.
"These papers demonstrate there are clear and substantive improvements for health if we choose the right mitigation strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
"We now have real life examples of how we can save the environment, reduce air pollution and decrease related health effects; it's really a win-win situation for everyone," she added.
A case study led by Smith on the health and climate benefits from a potential 150-million-stove program in India from 2010-2020 gives the largest co-benefit of any examined in the six papers.
Smith has shown that providing low-emission stove technologies in poor countries that currently rely on solid fuel household stoves to cook and heat their homes is a very cost-effective climate change linkage.
According to Smith, the 10-year program could prevent 2 million premature deaths in India, in addition to reducing greenhouse pollution by hundreds of millions of tons.
"These studies provide the kind of concrete information needed to choose actions that efficiently reduce this health burden as well as reduce the threat of climate change," said Smith.