Our Common Future Under Climate Change

International Scientific Conference 7-10 JULY 2015 Paris, France

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© Neil Palmer-CGIAR

© Neil Palmer-CGIAR

Combating climate change will make people healthier and happier: Expert

201504-29

By Michelle Kovacevic


AUCKLAND, New Zealand (29 April, 2015)_Climate science is already helping to improve the health of the world’s most vulnerable people but at the same time reduce emissions, says a prominent epidemiologist ahead of 2015’s largest gathering of climate scientists.

“Clean cook stoves, for example, simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and avoid lung- and heart-damaging pollution indoors,” says Professor Alistair Woodward of Auckland University and keynote speaker at the Our Common Future Under Climate Change conference (#CFCC15), which aims to profile the latest climate science innovations ahead of December’s landmark UN climate conference in Paris.

“The basic science is sorted out…[now we must ask] what are the designs that best suit local needs, and how can people access the technology?”

While the scientific community is in agreement that global temperatures are set to rise due the climate change, much less is known about the multiple ways that heat can affect people, their environments and their health.

Extreme heat can lead to crop and harvest failures, impair the health and fitness of people to carry out their livelihoods as well as lead to the spread of deadly diseases.

For many, droughts and hotter days will become a daily reality, says Woodward.

“With many more people likely to be affected by hotter days in the future…we need to know more about the impacts of heat and the factors that make some people more vulnerable...and the steps that can be taken to protect against heat stress", he said.

“The savings made from health gains will dominate the cost-benefit comparison.”

This is part of a blog series profiling climate scientists, economists, social scientists and civil society members who are presenting and discussing innovative climate science at Our Common Future. For more follow @ClimatParis2015 and #CFCC15 on Twitter.

Below is an edited transcript of an interview with Woodward, who can be reached for comment at a.woodward@auckland.ac.nz

Q: What is the link between climate change and health?


A: Extreme heat is the obvious connection between climate change and health. Most of us know from personal experience that it is difficult to function both physically and mentally at very high temperatures, and with the climate science predicting that global temperatures are set to rise, many more people are likely to be affected hotter days in the future.

For this reason, we need to know more about the impacts of heat, the factors that make some people more vulnerable, the combined effects of temperature and other factors such as air pollution, and steps that can be taken to protect against heat stress.

But there are other, less direct and perhaps less obvious effects of climate change on health that are also important. An example is the effects of rapid changes in the climate on crop production. The increase in droughts can damage food crops leading to food insecurity, which in turn leads to poor nutrition and health. Many infectious diseases are also sensitive to the climate –food-borne organisms such as salmonella, for instance, multiply faster at higher temperatures.

Q: What research is being carried out to ensure that people are able to mitigate and adapt to the health impacts of climate change in the coming decades?


A: I’m excited by the work on co-benefits. This concentrates on actions and interventions that achieve health benefits but also make a substantial contribution to mitigation. Clean cook stoves, for example, simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and avoid lung- and heart-damaging pollution indoors. The basic science is sorted out – what is needed is implementation science. What are the designs that best suit local needs, and how can people access the technology?

Similarly, there is huge potential, in many countries, to cut vehicle emissions by making walking and cycling more attractive, safer and easier. The big question for researchers is therefore how to unlock the potential of active transport.

Cook stoves and cycles won't solve the problem of climate change on their own. But they can make a significant contribution. Above all, these win-win interventions show that climate change is tractable, and the costs of action may be modest. Indeed in some instances, the savings made from health gains will dominate the cost-benefit comparison.

Q: What do you hope people leave the conference thinking about?

 
A: What distinguishes this conference, I believe, is the spread of disciplines. There are plenty of narrowly based, discipline-specific scientific meetings, but Our Common Future Under Climate Change brings together the top people from many fields, all of which have an important contribution to understanding and managing the risks of accelerated climate change.

My hope is that people leaving the conference will be reflecting on links and connections, and will enjoy the insights that come from learning about new ways of viewing problems.

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