Zero-carbon economy 'could save hundreds of thousands of lives a year'
A major scientific report has identified the alarming effect of climate change on our health - but outlines how we could take action to reverse the gloomy prediction.
The national science academies of EU states, Norway and Switzerland contributed to the report published by the European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EASAC).
It brings together global research on how climate change impacts issues from migration to criminal activity due to rising temperatures.
The study outlines how exposure to high temperatures and floods, droughts and air pollution will have a negative impact on our and future generations' health. It found:
- Several hundred thousand premature deaths annually in the EU could be averted by a 'zero-carbon' economy through reduced air pollution;
- Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables and reduced red meat will combat diseases and reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
- Climate action could avert a significant increase in the spread of infectious diseases.
The report identifies a recent estimate which suggests about 350,000 excess deaths annually in the EU can be attributed to air pollution from burning fossil fuels and of about 500,000 from all human- related activities.
"Seven million babies in Europe are living in areas where air pollution exceeds WHO recommended limits and such exposure may affect brain development and cognitive function," the report says.
"Action to reduce pollution through decarbonisation of the economy must be viewed as a priority to address both climate change and public health imperatives."
Dr Robin Fears, EASAC biosciences programme director, said there is a need for "open debate", particularly when it comes to contentious issues such as the impact of agriculture and consumption of meat.
"Agriculture itself can contribute to greenhouse gases - and climate change can affect agricultural activity when it comes to droughts, flooding, pestilence," he said.
"In Ireland, one major contribution to greenhouse gas is livestock. Ireland has a high percentage of production and consumption of livestock.
"Many of us consume too much food. If we reduce calorie consumption, we would reduce greenhouse gases and become healthier."
The report is available at www.easc.eu