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climate action

Net-zero climate policies will save lives by improving health, study finds

Research found retrofitting homes with insulation can be a major contributor to better health.

NET-ZERO POLICIES targeting the climate crisis will have the added benefit of saving lives by improving public health, a new study in the UK has shown.

Significant health benefits would come alongside policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, transport, home energy, travel and food, according to the research published in the Lancet Journal.

In particular, it found that retrofitting homes with insulation – which serves to reduce energy consumption and therefore emissions – is the single largest contributor to health benefits of net-zero policies.

Switching to renewable energy to power homes and reducing red meat consumption are the next most impactful factors.

The team of researchers modelled how certain policies will affect health in areas such as reduced air pollution, healthier diets, and increased exercise and measured the collective number of additional years that people would live in England and Wales. 

Under modelling of policies that led to a 60% reduction in emissions by 2035, retrofitting homes with insulation resulted in a total of 836,000 extra years of life by 2050, followed by 657,000 extra years through switching to renewable energy to power homes.

Reducing red meat consumption gave an extra 412,000 years, replacing car journeys with walking or cycling yielded 125,000, and adopting renewable energy for electricity generation resulted in another 46,000.

Switching to renewable energy for transport led to an extra 30,000 years of life, giving a total of two million years across the policies.

Additionally, a second modelled scenario where consumer behaviour changed quickly with regards to diet and travel choices amounted to two and a half million years.

Dr James Milner of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the modelling confirms that there are “significant health benefits to implementing net zero policies”.

“Not only are these policies essential for mitigating climate change, they also make us healthier,” he said.

If we move faster in adopting more environmentally friendly diets and active ways of travelling, the health benefits will be even greater.

Dr Milner described the role of retrofitting homes with insulation in delivering health benefits as “particularly striking”.

“Housing in England and Wales is poorly insulated compared to other countries, so actions taken towards improving home energy efficiency prove particularly beneficial to reducing carbon emissions and improving health,” he said.

“The energy and cost-of-living crises this winter have provided a long list of reasons for the UK to adopt an ambitious insulation policy; our study adds better health to that list.”

Ireland’s Climate Action Plan references co-benefits of climate action such as improved public health, better resilience against extreme weather events, and new jobs in emerging industries. 

In 2015, the Paris Agreement called for countries to try to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and not to allow it to surpass 2 degrees.

Currently, the world is around 1.1 degrees warmer than pre-industrial times and is already experiencing impacts of the climate crisis such as heatwaves, droughts and melting ice sheets.

 Global surface temperatures are expected to exceed 1.5 and 2 degrees unless “deep reductions” are made to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

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