Taking on climate change would save millions of lives: WHO

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At least one million lives a year could be saved by tackling climate change, according to the World Health Organization.

The new report, which was requested by leaders at UN’s climate summit, states that millions of human lives and hundreds of billions of dollars could be saved by the middle of the century if the world can work to meet the commitments of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

“The true cost of climate change is felt in our hospitals and in our lungs,” María Neira, WHO director of public and environmental health, said in a press release.

Cutting back on fossil fuels both slows global warming and reduces air pollution, which is currently responsible for an estimated 7 million deaths a year.

And in the 15 countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, the economic benefits of a healthier population doubles those of cutting emissions. Meeting the Paris goals would cost countries about one percent of global GDP, while the health impacts of toxic air cost more than four percent GDP.

“The Paris Agreement is potentially the strongest health agreement of this century,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO. “The evidence is clear that climate change is already having a serious impact on human lives and health. It threatens the basic elements we all need for good health – clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply and safe shelter – and will undermine decades of progress in global health. We can’t afford to delay action any further.”

The Paris Agreement aims to keep global temperatures from rising above 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit this century. World leaders from nearly 200 nations are currently gathered in Katowice, Poland to figure out how to better tackle the growing threats of climate change.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, chided countries for not doing enough to combat “the most important issue we face.”

Over 80 experts, health professionals and representatives from international agencies, who’ve worked in public health and climate change for over 30 years, contributed to the report.

Among the recommendations, it urges policies and incentives to speed up the switch towards “low-carbon energy sources,” such as wind, solar and nuclear power. Experts add that since this switch would cut back on air pollution, it could encourage greener forms of transportation – which would further slash emissions.

“Morally, delaying the [clean energy] transition is being responsible for millions of deaths every year,” said Neira. “[Leaders] need to ask themselves how many deaths are [they] willing to accept. When health is taken into account, climate action is an opportunity, not a cost.”

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