Explainer

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.
A photograph of the author, Simge Eva Dogan.

Simge Eva Dogan

A photograph of the author, Simge Eva Dogan.

Simge Eva Dogan

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Why climate mitigation is critical to protect health
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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 hundreds of thousands of 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.

While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says it’s now “almost inevitable” that temperatures will rise above 1.5°C, there’s still a chance to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown – and protect people’s health.

What’s critical is the speed and scale at which world leaders choose to act. 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 – now, it’s time to urgently make changes informed by the available scientific evidence.

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 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.

It’s important that world leaders choose the healthiest ways to mitigate climate change that are informed by evidence.

That’s why Wellcome is funding research to predict and measure the health impacts of different climate change actions. Our latest funding call will support 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.

We’re funding vital research into the impact climate change has on human health around the world, at national, regional and global levels.

Explore our Climate and Health funding opportunities.