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The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: Policy brief for the UK

The RCP is one of a number of organisations supporting a new policy brief on health and climate change which has been published today.

The policy brief – which is also supported by the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Psychiatrists – calls on the UK government to:

  • End all subsidies, investments, new licences and consent for fossil fuels while ensuring a just transition to renewable energy
  • Adopt a legally-binding commitment to reducing fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) to the World Health Organization’s interim target of 10 µg/m3 by 2030 with a future objective to achieve the WHO recommended guideline of 5 µg/m3
  • Create equitable access to green space by prioritising protection and development of high-quality natural places to ensure everyone has a local park within a 10-minute walk.

The policy brief is underpinned by the findings of the latest Lancet Countdown report, which monitors the global impact of health on climate change and the health benefits of climate action. Acknowledging the compounding shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict in Ukraine, and a global energy and cost of living crises, this year’s Lancet Countdown report highlights that we are at a critical juncture, facing a very real danger of countries backsliding on climate commitments in their responses.

According to Lancet Countdown data, in 2020-21, the UK government committed significantly more resources to supporting fossil fuel-based energy than clean energy sources and allocated a net 12.3 billion in subsidies in 2019 alone – more than any other country in Europe, and equivalent to 4.1% of UK health expenditure.

The policy brief argues that instead of funding fossil fuels, the UK needs an ambitious programme of retrofitting, insulation and clean heat generation in all homes and public buildings to reduce fuel consumption and costs. It also calls for decisive action to tackle air pollution which was linked to nearly 27,000 deaths in the UK in 2020, and for improved access to green spaces which could potentially save the NHS around £111 million a year.

Commenting on the publication of the new policy brief, Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, Royal College of Physicians special adviser on air quality, said: “This report once again highlights the urgency of reinvesting in growth through clean energy. Every week there is new data showing the toxic effects of the air we are currently breathing across the whole of life from conception to older age.

“Since over 40% of the rise in temperature is driven by short lived fossil fuel-derived pollutants, then surely by tackling air pollution with ambition there will be immediate benefits to health as well as a substantial contribution to meeting our climate change objectives and improving our environment that we are so connected to.”

The full policy brief can be downloaded below.