Royal London Hospital

Health inequalities & climate change assessed together for equitable green recovery

09 November, 2020

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CREDS researcher, Ian Hamilton, supported work on a report, released last Friday, which looks at the inequalities in health and the health of our planet.

CREDS researcher, Ian Hamilton, supported work on a report, released last Friday, which looks at the inequalities in health and the health of our planet. The UCL Institute of Health Equity (IHE) was commissioned by the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to develop recommendations that could both improve the nation’s health, reduce health inequalities and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

An Advisory Group was set up to look at how to achieve a green recovery and improve health equity when setting the sixth carbon budget. The Group asserts that the impacts of climate change will likely widen existing health inequalities in the UK and warns that if health equity isn’t considered alongside future government greenhouse gas targets, it will continue to be the most vulnerable who are unfairly hit the hardest.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Advisory Group Chair and Director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity (IHE) said:

When we talk about climate change health inequalities are often forgotten. Action to improve health equity can be consistent with measures to reduce GHG emissions. But this requires careful consideration of who benefits and who pays for different policy measures: the costs must not be unfairly borne by people on low incomes, who bear least responsibility for the emissions that cause climate change. To avoid this health equity must be an explicit policy goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. If we are to achieve a green recovery we need to take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book and switch emphasis from GDP to wellbeing in measuring our country’s economic success.

Table 1: Four key areas of action.
Minimising air pollution
  • Reduce dependence on fossil fuels and accelerate transition to clean energy
  • Set target date to eliminate home installation of wood burning and gas stoves in urban areas
  • Upgrade domestic heating systems to electric and/or heat pump technology
  • Invest in re-training and diversify affected economies as fossil fuel industry sites are closed
Building energy efficient homes
  • Establish target to retrofit and upgrade existing homes to be energy efficient
  • Revise building standards to become near-zero or zero-carbon with flexibility to adapt to local environment needs
  • Ensure all homes are designed to reduce exposure to extreme heat without using refrigerants
Promoting sustainable and healthy food
  • Enable powers to transition to healthier and more sustainable diets, to be reflected in UK dietary guidelines
  • Develop labelling system to inform consumers about health and environmental impacts of purchases
  • Support interventions such as changing marketing of food, VAT structures and waste reduction duties
Prioritising active and safe transport
  • Support replacement of old polluting vehicles, expand electric charging network for vehicles and e-bikes and invest in walking/cycling infrastructure
  • Increase availability of affordable and reliable public transport, promote ride-sharing and e-delivery services
  • Implement flexible speed restrictions, and traffic control measures, and increase monitoring and enforcement

The report can be read on the Institute of Health Equity’s website.

Banner photo credit: Étienne Godiard on Unsplash