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Reducing greenhouse gases will have good short term effect

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7273.1367/a (Published 02 December 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1367
  1. Tony Sheldon
  1. Utrecht

    Reducing greenhouse gases would have immediate as well as long term health benefits, the World Health Organization (WHO) argued at the climate change summit.

    Researchers pointed to a growing body of scientific evidence attributing deaths to air pollution. Reducing greenhouse gases, they argued, also meant cleaner air, and targeting fossil fuel emissions in particular had dramatic health benefits.

    Initial results from a study of eight Italian cities suggest that 4.7% of total mortality—3500 deaths annually in a population of 11 million—is caused through cancer and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases attributable to air pollution. Researchers in Switzerland, Austria, and France claim that 6% of deaths in these countries are due to air pollution, amounting to 40000 deaths annually.

    Studies in cities in the former East Germany have shown the immediate health benefits of cleaner air. Prevalence of bronchitis among children aged 5 to 14 years fell by about 10% in two years in direct relation to reduced concentrations of particulate matter.

    Dr Nino Könzli of the Basle Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine has used epidemiological techniques to assess the health impact of air pollution. He argued there was considerable evidence that fossil fuels were the key cause of both climate change and air pollution, which in turn today caused death and morbidity. “Mitigating greenhouse gases will bring substantial short term as well as long term health benefits.”

    Road transport was highlighted as the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide, responsible for 26% of such emissions within the European Union. Dr Carlos Dora from the WHO's European Centre for the Environment and Health in Rome argued that transport policies which encouraged public transport, walking, and cycling had dramatic impacts on health beyond climate change. “We could reduce greenhouse gases while reducing the risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.”

    Dr Roberto Bertollini, director of technical support and strategic development at the WHO's European regional office, feared that climate change negotiators too often neglected the secondary, public health benefits, even though this meant saving lives. “We know of the links between particulate matter concentrations and mortality. The big scenarios of benefits by 2025 may not attract the interest of policymakers and public support in the same way as the health considerations do here and now.”

    The WHO estimates that, in total, strategic climate policies could prevent as many as eight million deaths worldwide over the next 20 years.

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