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Health benefits of policies to reduce carbon emissions

30 March, 2020

Health benefits of policies to reduce carbon emissions

Ian Hamilton

Research paper   Buildings & Energy

James Milner, Ian Hamilton, James Woodcock, Martin Williams, Mike Davies, Paul Wilkinson and Andy Haines

James Milner and colleagues argue that carefully considered policies to lower carbon emissions can also improve health, and we should use these benefits to push for strong climate action

In June 2019 the UK legally committed to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050.1 To reach this target the Committee on Climate Change says that a rapid transformation in infrastructure will be required across all sectors of the economy.2 What is less widely appreciated is that many of the required actions can improve the health of the UK population.3 These ancillary effects on health are commonly referred to as co-benefits, although since not all are beneficial “co-effects” is more accurate. Co-benefits provide an additional argument for acting on climate change.

Methods and literature in this area have grown rapidly over the past 15 years, mainly focusing on reductions in environmental pollutants such as air pollution and changes in health relevant behaviours such as physical activity and diet. We summarise key evidence on the health effects of climate change mitigation policies across four sectors responsible for a large proportion of emissions: power generation, housing, land transport, and food or diet. We report on individual sectors because this is how analyses are typically reported. However, the sectors interact, and, most notably, future power generation will have implications for housing and transport. We have not considered other sectors such as shipping and aviation or potentially important policies such as taxation or pricing mechanisms because their effects on health are less well researched.

Publication details

Milner, J., Hamilton, I., Woodcock, J., Williams, M., Davies, M., Wilkinson, P. and Haines, A. 2020. Health benefits of policies to reduce carbon emissions, BMJ, 368: 16758. doi: 10.1136/bmj.l6758Opens in a new tab  

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