The ‘Climate Change’ and its impact on ‘Public health’: is there anything in it that we can do ourselves?

The Lancet in its December 5, 12 and 19, 2009 issues published the following interesting studies:A. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: household energy
B. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: urban land transport
C. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: low-carbon electricity generation
D. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: food and agriculture
E. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: health implications of short-lived greenhouse pollutants
F. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: overview and implications for policy makersThe findings of these studies clearly indicate that climate change is intimately linked to the global public health.

The key highlights:

1. In rural households (particularly in a developing country like India), if low carbon emission cooking stoves are used, the incidence of acute respiratory tract infections, chronic respiratory illnesses and even cardiac disorders can be brought down significantly.

2. For city transportation, increased usage of more fuel efficient or even hybrid vehicle will not be just enough to effectively reduce the greenhouse effect and improve public health. To achieve this some fundamental change in our life style and urban pedestrian infrastructure will be necessary rather than building more and more flyovers. Encouragement of ‘foot- and pedal-powered mobility’ could prove to be more useful for specific public health benefits, which could come in terms of reductions of cardiovascular disease by around 20%, in addition to reduced incidence of depression, dementia and diabetes.

3. The civil society would require putting more efforts to burn less of fossil fuels and increase in production of cleaner energy through solar and wind power to substantially improve the quality of air that we breathe.

4. In areas of agriculture and food production, initiatives like lesser usage of fossil fuel, innovative usage of manure, reduced livestock production and intensive programs of carbon capture could significantly lower the impact of climate change on public health.

“A 30% fall in the adult consumption of saturated fat from animal sources would reduce heart disease in the population by around 15% in the UK and by 16% in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. If the study had used additional health outcomes such as obesity and diet-related cancers, the health gains might have been even more substantial”, the Lancet highlighted.

The studies further indicated, “Recognition that mitigation strategies can have substantial benefits for both health and climate protection offers the possibilities of policy choices that are potentially both more cost effective and socially attractive than are those that address these priorities independently.”

India perspective:

‘Climatico national first assessment report’ of March 8, 2009 makes important observations on the general trends between national policies to understand how climate policy is developing in the major greenhouse gas-emitting countries like, UK, EU, France, Germany, Canada, USA, Mexico, India, China, Indonesia, Japan, Australia.

Key findings of the report are as follows:

1. “A significant funding gap is appearing for adaptation, as developing country lack domestic resources and capacity and also appears unable to rely on international transfer mechanisms to meet their financing needs. It is at present unclear how adaptation will be effectively financed”.

2. “The financial crisis is allowing a mainstreaming of climate change into recovery packages, accelerating otherwise difficult shifts to low carbon growth in developed countries. However, the same crisis is causing a major slow down in projects that do not contribute to financial recovery”.

It has been reported that the above observations have prompted the Government of India to seek global cooperation both in terms of funding and technology to facilitate the capacity building exercise in these areas to effectively address all issues arising out of ‘climate change’.

Conclusion:

It has now been well accepted by the policy makers in India that there is a dire need to effectively address the critical public health issues related to global ‘climate change’. Based on the findings, as published in ‘The Lancet’, the Government of India should take appropriate collaborative measures to neutralize the adverse impact of ‘climate change’ on ‘public health’, sooner the better.

At the same time, let me hasten to add that there are many other measures, as stated earlier, which we all can take ourselves as a civil society in general and a responsible citizen in particular, to prevent this impending crisis.

By Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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