Why climate mitigation is critical to protect health

If climate change is one of the greatest global health threats of the 21st century, climate mitigation is the greatest global health opportunity. Here’s why.

Illustration of climate mitigation examples, including a wind turbine, solar panels and a person cycling.


Licence: All Rights Reserved

Simge Eva Dogan

Listen to this article
Why climate mitigation is critical to protect health
Elapsed time:00:00Total time:00:00

Climate change is a complex issue that’s affecting the health of millions of people around the world.  

Higher temperatures raise the risk of pregnancy complications for women in The Gambia; floods in the Philippines cause injury, disease, undernutrition and mental health problems; and many Californians in the US lack access to clean drinking water due to unrelenting drought

To minimise these impacts and build a liveable future for all, we need to act urgently to mitigate climate change.

What is climate change mitigation? 

If you look at the bigger picture, mitigating climate change involves transitioning from a world that relies on fossil fuels to one that uses clean, renewable energy. This can also be done by building more sustainable food, transport and housing systems. And on an individual level, if these choices are possible, we can help mitigate climate change by choosing to eat healthier, reducing our waste and using less energy.

Our efforts to mitigate climate change must also go hand in hand with adaptation efforts. These are solutions that help us adapt to life in a changing climate, for example by building climate-resilient buildings or better flood or wildfire protection. Adaptation requires immense political and financial support – and its effectiveness relies on our success in mitigating climate change and limiting temperature rise.

How does climate mitigation benefit health? 

Mitigating climate change will help avoid the worst effects of heat and extreme events on our health. And there are also many co-benefits of climate mitigation policies on health:

  • Interventions to improve transport, housing and energy systems and phase out fossil fuels can help reduce the risk of air pollution-related diseases and reduce the millions of deaths globally that result from indoor and outdoor air pollution.
  • Changes to our transport systems can encourage more active mobility (walking and cycling) as well as reduce traffic injury deaths.
  • Shifting to more sustainable, plant-based food production and consumption systems in countries with high-calorie diets and animal-sourced food can help improve health and reduce deaths from diet-related health risks.

There are some examples from around the world of how mitigation actions have delivered climate and health benefits – from how adopting renewable energy at scale in the US has helped improve air quality and avoid premature deaths, to how increasing access to healthcare services in Indonesia has helped protect forests from illegal logging.

However, further evidence of the impact of climate mitigation actions on greenhouse gas emissions and health is needed to inform future progress.

What needs to happen next to mitigate climate change? 

Although climate mitigation actions are being implemented around the world, global greenhouse gas emissions are not falling at the scale and speed needed to limit future global temperature increases to 1.5°C.

It’s projected that current policies around the world will result in around 2.7°C warming above pre-industrial levels. But all sectors have options to at least halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The 2023 Lancet Pathfinder Commission report gives evidence that world leaders need to urgently scale up climate mitigation actions to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown. It’s also important they choose the healthiest and most equitable ways to mitigate climate change that are informed by the available scientific evidence.

At Wellcome, we’re funding research to predict and measure the health impacts of different climate change actions. Our funding call ‘Advancing climate mitigation policy solutions with health co-benefits in G7 countries’ is supporting applicants to generate evidence to help policymakers in G7 countries make changes to food systems, transport, energy and housing sectors that improve health.

The whole world can take part in climate mitigation. But richer countries like G7 members, which have high levels of historical emissions and large economies, need to lead the way on climate action. They also need to support lower-income countries, which are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and ill-equipped to cut emissions, with the necessary funding.

We have the tools to respond to the climate crisis, and the sooner we do, the better our chances of protecting health and wellbeing.

This article was first published on 12 July 2022.