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Analysis Health in the Anthropocene

Health benefits of policies to reduce carbon emissions

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 30 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:l6758

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  1. James Milner, assistant professor1 2,
  2. Ian Hamilton, reader3,
  3. James Woodcock, principal research associate4,
  4. Martin Williams, professor in air quality research5,
  5. Mike Davies, professor of building physics and the environment6,
  6. Paul Wilkinson, professor of environmental epidemiology1 2,
  7. Andy Haines, professor of environmental change and public health1 2 7
  1. 1Department of Public Health, Environments and Society, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  3. 3UCL Energy Institute, University College London, London, UK
  4. 4Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), MRC Epidemiology Unit, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  5. 5Environmental Research Group and Medical Research Council Centre for Environment and Health, King’s College London, London, UK
  6. 6UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, University College London, London, UK
  7. 7Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: J Milner james.milner{at}

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.

Our analysis focuses on the UK as an example given its legal commitment, though the issues and policy environments are similar in other high income countries. The evidence comes largely from studies included in two recent systematic reviews (box 1), …

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