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Video: Climate Change and Resource Use

Seyed Mohammad Mehdi Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi7 March 2014

Climate Week video

 

 

 

 

 

 

At first glance, climate change is all about energy consumption and associated carbon emissions. Other resources than energy greatly matter too however. The use of natural resources leads to carbon emissions and many mitigation options like renewables depend on scarce resources like critical metals. In this video, Professor Paul Ekins, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Resources, and Professor Raimund Bleischwitz, BHP Billiton Chair in Sustainable Global Resources, explain the relation between different resources and global warming. Also, PhD researchers at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources provide insight in the role of energy, water, land and fossil fuels in the changing climate.

Watch the video by Stijn Van Ewijk and Seyed Medhi Mohaghegh, UCL ISR PhD students

“Half the work, twice the effect” – from a Chinese proverb to the cost-effective responses to the climate crisis

ucftaww6 March 2014

Blog by Wenjia Cai, UCL Lancet Commission

Right now I am sitting in my office in Beijing, where the air quality has been labeled by “hazardous” for almost a week. I am suffering from my sore throat, but I have nowhere to escape.

I believe this is the kind of frustration faced by many people, when they know climate change is threatening their health. The negative health impacts are happening, and are very likely to cost us a fortune.

Some simple but serious facts [1]-[3] are shown below. Of the world’s total population,

Wei 1

These are the most vulnerable people in the world. They are never the biggest contributors to the climate change crisis, but they are the ones being affected the most. Their health has been greatly threatened by droughts, floods, hunger, vector-borne diseases, home damages and health services interrupts.

Take hurricanes and storms for example. Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast coast of the United States, causing widespread damage and around 100 people died. However, in the developing world, such storms take a much greater toll. In 2007 and 2008, two very severe storms – Sidr and Nargis – caused the deaths of more than 10,000 and around 138,000 people in Bangladesh and Myanmar, respectively. In fact, statistics shows that only 5% of tropical cyclones occur in the north Indian Ocean, but they account for 95% of such casualties worldwide[4].

To respond to the climate crisis, greenhouse gas mitigation certainly aims for the root of the problem; yet some simple and low-cost adaptation measures can have instant effects.

Peter J. Webster, a professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, advocates for the establishment of network between the forecasters of global weather and climate in the developed world, and research, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the less-developed world[4]. He estimated that such a network could produce 10-15-day forecasts for south and east Asia for a wide range of hydrometeorological hazards (including slow-rise monsoon floods, droughts and tropical cyclones), which will cost as little as $2~3 million a year, but save billions of dollars and thousands of lives.

On the basis of a World Bank report[5], one analysis concluded that about $ 40 was saved for every dollar invested in the regional forecasting and warning system. 

Fortunately, as commented by Webster, Bangladesh already benefited from such network. In 2007 and 2008, Bangladesh experienced three major floods. Each was forecast successfully ten days in advance and mitigation steps were taken.

This is one successful story of how we can quickly adapt to the coming climate crisis in a cost-effective way. The following table is excerpted from the major-task list of the “National Strategy of Climate Change Adaption” in China[6], published in November 2013, which may also provide us some hints on the other cost-effective options.

 

Major tasks to protect human health under climate change context in China
Improve the health and epidemic prevention system construction –strengthen disease prevention and control system–amend the indoor and working environmental standards–monitor drinking water hygiene conditions
Carry out monitoring and evaluation, as well as public information services –evaluate climate change impacts on the health of vulnerable people–establish the health-related weather monitoring and early warning networks, and public information service system
Strengthen the emergency system construction –develop and improve the health emergency plans for heat stroke, snow and ice, haze and other extreme weather and climate events

 

We are standing in the historic moment of addressing the climate crisis. Any delayed action may result in irreversible change and unaffordable costs. To make the right strategy, the traditional cost-effective analysis (CBA) can shed some light and help us choose within the large pool of adaptation and mitigation options. Obviously our choices will lean towards those options which don’t need high investment and will eventually pay for itself. In fact, there are many such options which can have the “twice the effect” with “half the work”. Our report will try to identify them. It’s also expected that, after considering the monetized health benefits, those options will become much more cost-effective, which can strengthen the will and catalyze the actions from politicians and investors.

Wenjia Cai is an assistant professor of Global Change Economics in Center for Earth System Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. E-mail: wcai@tsinghua.edu.cn. The blog content only shows the views from the author, and cannot represent the opinions of any organizations or working groups.

References:
[1] World Bank, 2013. World Development Indicators 2013. http://data.worldbank.org/region/WLD (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[2] Da Silva J, 2013.. World Food Day 2013: Towards Sustainable Food Systems. http://www.fao.org//about/who-we-are/director-gen/faodg-opinionarticles/detail/en/c/203152/ (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[3] World Health Organization, 2013. 10 Facts on Climate Change and Health. http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/climate_change/facts/en/index5.html (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[4] Webster P, 2013. Improve weather forecasts for the developing world. Nature, 493: 17-19.
[5] Teisberg TJ, Weiher RF, 2009. Background Paper on the Benefits and Costs of Early Warning Systems for Major Natural Hazards. https://www.gfdrr.org/sites/gfdrr.org/files/New%20Folder/Teisberg_EWS.pdf (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)
[6] National Development and Reform Commission, 2013. China’s National Strategy of Climate Change Adaption. http://qhs.ndrc.gov.cn/gzdt/W020131213626583538862.pdf (accessed Feb 25th, 2014)

 

Understanding the impact of climate change mitigation on health

ucftiha5 March 2014

Blog by Ian Hamilton, Lecturer and Senior Research Associate in Energy Epidemiology, UCL-Energy

Is there a benefit to our health from undertaking actions to mitigate climate change?  The answer is complicated (as most things are), but generally speaking there are both potential benefits and risks to our health.

If we focus on buildings, where we now spend the majority of our lifetime in the UK, and in particular housing, there are a several mitigation actions that we might consider what the impact on our health could be.  These include actions to reduce the heat lost by insulting and draught proofing the building fabric and powering our lives with low-carbon fuels.

First, it is worth considering what a future of climate change could mean to health.  In 2009, a joint UCL-Lancet commission explored the potential impact that climate change could have on health including: changing patterns and spread of disease, habitat loss and animal extinction and impact on food production, changing rainfall and drought that risks access to safe and clean water, infrastructure failure and access to energy, and the increased risk of extreme events.  They noted that these events would lead to exacerbating inequality by increasing instability and competition for resources with most of the burden falling to the poor.  The commission concluded that climate change was the greatest threat to human health of the 21st century.(1)

The UK has a large burden of excess winter mortality and morbidity (upward of 25,000 excess winter deaths EWD each year)(2), which is greater than that of many comparable northern European countries with colder climates(3).  While a portion of winter excess is attributable to influenza and other seasonal infections, several studies have also suggested that a substantial part of the seasonal burden is still related to exposure to cold(4,5).  Evidence from the UK, New Zealand and elsewhere does suggest that housing energy performance may play an important role in determining that risk(6,7) (i.e. inefficient homes are also cold homes).  Though it should also be recognized that exposures to cold from excursions outdoors could play a role.

Improving our housing stock is a major part of the UK Government’s proposals of an ambitious strategy to reduce emissions from the building stock, which are part of its commitment to reduce UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050(8).  The Energy Efficiency Strategy(9) includes policies to reduce energy demand through improvements in building energy performance and aggressive decarbonisation of the energy supply system.  Under these plans, the Government has set out pathways that will see millions of energy efficiency retrofits installed in houses by 2050 at an estimated cost of £200bn(10).

By insulating our houses, there are benefits of being better able to maintain a comfortable temperature and save money by reducing the energy needed to heat.  It is recognised that following an efficiency retrofit, many households will take mixture of energy savings and improvements in indoor temperature(11).  Whilst this action may result in less than expected energy (and therefore CO2) savings, evidence suggests that those actions have resulted in improved thermal comfort(12), mental wellbeing(13), and reduced mould growth(14).  There may also be benefits from living in warm homes by reducing the risk to different diseases, including(15): cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and asthma in children.

There is a risk, however, that if the air tightness of a home is reduced and there is not additional ventilation, the action will increase exposure to indoor pollutants(16). A recent study in the BMJ highlighted this risk to health from radon gases(17).  This preliminary work indicated that unless specific remediation is used, reducing the ventilation of dwellings will improve energy efficiency only at the expense of population wide adverse impact on indoor exposure to radon and risk of lung cancer.  There are, however, many possible unintended consequences of actions to improve energy efficiency(18).  To avoid these negative co-effects, more robust evidence, better policy formulation and actions to ensure effective implementation are needed alongside climate change mitigation.

A warmer climate may not even protect against cold related deaths.  Recent work by colleagues at UCL has suggested that a future warmer climate may not reduce excess winter deaths(19) (EWD) (i.e. the excess number of deaths during winter months compared to summer months).  By looking at past data from England and Wales, Staddon et al (2014) showed that cold days in winter was a strong driver of EWD up to the 1970’s and that improvements in housing, health care, have helped in reducing EWD.  They suggest though that future warming in climate is unlikely to hold much benefit for reducing this health risk and the risk may be greater from more extreme weather events.

Decarbonising the power supply sector also holds both risks and benefits for health.  The direct benefits centre on reducing exposure to air pollutants(20).  In the UK, the associated burden of air pollution from the power sector is estimated to account for 3,800 deaths per year, related to respiratory illness(20). In places where emissions from the power sector are not well controlled the potential impact is likely much higher.  The burden of disease in China related to air pollution is much higher than the European Union, with premature deaths from PM2.5 along at 7.4 times greater(21).  This year, particulate matter in Chinese cities across the northern part or the country has been exceeding the WHO guidance on safe levels.  The risks to health are more likely to be indirect; if decarbonising energy is also linked to excessive price rises, it could cause a situation of ‘heat or eat’.  When faced with sudden changes in the cost of heating fuel (which can be exacerbated by cold events), households have to make choices about what they spend their income on(22).  The effect is that households eat less and possible less nutritious foods, which will have knock on effects on health, particularly children(23).  It is essential that alongside plans to decarbonise the energy supply that policies are put in place that can mitigate the burden placed on vulnerable households, such as energy efficiency programmes.  Decarbonising the power sector can have major benefits to health by reducing outdoor levels of air pollution, which in turn will reduce both the outdoor and indoor exposure(21).

On balance, if properly implemented, actions to mitigate climate change in the UK through energy efficiency in housing and decarbonising the power supply can have benefits to health by reducing exposure to cold and reducing exposure to outdoor air pollutants(24).  It will also offer indirect health benefits by providing more resilience during extreme cold and heat events(25).

Further, while there may be health risks around the actions we need to take to mitigate climate change, the potential negative impacts of not taking action and facing the risks of an unknown future climate seem far greater.

 

References:

1.        Costello A, Abbas M, Allen A, Ball S, Bell S, Bellamy R, et al. Managing the health effects of climate change: Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission. Lancet. 2009 May 16;373(9676):1693–733.

2.        Johnson H, Griffiths C. Estimating excess winter mortality in England and Wales. Heal Stat Q. 2003;20:19–24.

3.        Healy JD. Excess winter mortality in Europe: a cross country analysis identifying key risk factors. J Epidemiol Community Heal. 2003;57(10):784–9.

4.        Wilkinson P, Pattenden S, Armstrong B, Fletcher A, Kovats RS, Mangtani P, et al. Vulnerability to winter mortality in elderly people in Britain: population based study. BMJ. 2004 Sep 18;329(7467):647.

5.        Hajat S, Armstrong BG, Gouveia N, Wilkinson P. Mortality Displacement of Heat-Related Deaths: A Comparison of Delhi, São Paulo, and London. Epidemiology. 2005;16(5):613–20.

6.        Wilkinson P, Landon M, Armstrong B, Stevenson S, McKee M, Fletcher T. Cold comfort: the social and environmental determinants of excess winter death in England, 1986-1996. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. York, UK: Joseph Rowntree Foundation; 2001.

7.        Jackson G, Thornley S, Woolston J, Papa D, Bernacchi A, Moore T. Reduced acute hospitalisation with the healthy housing programme. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2011 Jul 1;65(7):588–93.

8.        HM Government. The Carbon Plan: Delivering our low carbon future. London, UK: DECC; 2011.

9.        DECC. The Energy Efficiency Strategy: The energy efficiency opportunity in the UK – Strategy and Annexes. London, UK: Department of Energy and Climate Change; 2012 Jun p. 109.

10.      BIS. Low Carbon Construction. London, UK: Department for Business Innovation and Skills; 2010.

11.      Oreszczyn T, Hong SH, Ridley I, Wilkinson P. Determinants of winter indoor temperatures in low income households in England. Energy Build. 2006 Mar;38(3):245–52.

12.      Hong SH, Gilbertson J, Oreszczyn T, Green G, Ridley I. A field study of thermal comfort in low-income dwellings in England before and after energy efficient refurbishment. Build Environ. 2009 Jun;44(6):1228–36.

13.      Critchley R, Gilbertson J, Grimsley M, Green G. Living in cold homes after heating improvements: Evidence from Warm-Front, England’s Home Energy Efficiency Scheme. Appl Energy. 2007 Feb;84(2):147–58.

14.      Oreszczyn T, Ridley I, Hong SH, Wilkinson P. Mould and winter indoor relative humidity in low income households in England. Indoor built Environ. 2006;15(2):125–35.

15.      Thomson H, Thomas S, Sellstrom E, Petticrew M. Housing improvements for health and associated socio-economic outcomes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan;2:CD008657.

16.      Bone a., Murray V, Myers I, Dengel a., Crump D. Will drivers for home energy efficiency harm occupant health? Perspect Public Health. 2010 May 28;130(5):233–8.

17.      Milner J, Shrubsole C, Das P, Jones B, Hamilton IG, Chalabi Z, et al. Unintended consequences of climate change mitigation for radon-related lung cancer. Proceedings of the 2013 Annual UK Review Meeting on Outdoor and Indoor Air Pollution Research, 23-24 April. Cranfield, UK: Institute of Environment and Health; 2013.

18.      Shrubsole C, Macmillan A, Davies M, May N. 100 unintended consequences of policies to improve the energy efficiency of the UK housing stock. Indoor Built Environ. 2014;In Press(Special Issue).

19.      Staddon PL, Montgomery HE, Depledge MH. Climate warming will not decrease winter mortality. Nat Clim Chang. Nature Publishing Group; 2014 Feb 23;advance on.

20.      Markandya A, Wilkinson P. Electricity generation and health. Lancet. 2007 Sep;370(9591):979–90.

21.      Markandya A, Armstrong BG, Hales S, Chiabai A, Criqui P, Mima S, et al. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: low-carbon electricity generation. Lancet. 2009;374(9706):2006–15.

22.      O’neill T, Jinks C, Squire A. “Heating Is More Important Than Food.”J Hous Elderly. Routledge; 2006 Dec 18;20(3):95–108.

23.      Bhattacharya J, DeLeire T, Haider S, Currie J. Heat or Eat? Cold-Weather Shocks and Nutrition in Poor American Families. Am J Public Health. American Public Health Association; 2003 Jul 10;93(7):1149–54.

24.      Wilkinson P, Smith KR, Davies M, Adair H, Armstrong BG, Barrett M, et al. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: household energy. Lancet. Elsevier; 2009;374(9705):1917–29.

25.      Wilkinson P, Smith KR, Beevers S, Tonne C, Oreszczyn T. Energy, energy efficiency, and the built environment. Lancet. Elsevier; 2007 Sep 29;370(9593):1175–87.

 

‘Climate, resilience and adaptation’

ucftaww4 March 2014

Blog by Victor Galaz; Associate Professor, Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University)
Join the conversation and follow Victor on Twitter

The previous Lancet Commission of 2009 made the point completely clear, still the message tends to get lost in the climate debate. Climate change is fundamentally a challenge for human health. The message is worth reiterating. Policy-makers, non-governmental actors, business and civil society are in desperate need of trustworthy assessments of innovative policies, institutions and proposals which could help us stay ahead of human health challenges posed by climate change.

Working group 2 of the Lancet Commission is entitled “Resilience and Adaptation Responses”, and consists of an international interdisciplinary group of prominent scholars working at the interface of health, global change, and resilience (see membership). Our ambition is to bring together and feature promising adaptation approaches; discuss their costs and scalability; and identify possible win-win trajectories. This is far from a simple task for several reasons.

First, climate adaptation often entails a combination of several types of interventions. That is, they often include changes in economic incentives, the placement of new technologies, modifications in natural systems such as ecosystems, institutional reforms, and new forms of decision-making and funding arrangements. In addition, these interventions differ considerably across sectors (e.g. agriculture vs. energy production), and the scale of interest (e.g. local, national and regional).

Second, while some of the human health impacts of climate change can be partly predictable, gradual and even reversible, other might emerge as surprises. That is, events that fundamentally differ from expectations and with the potential to trigger health crises – events that require prompt interventions despite large uncertainties and limited time to act. Hence adaptation policies and institutions not only need to match known threats, but also need to be robust to surprising changes created by human, environmental and technological uncertainty.

Third, there are likely to be limits to adaptation. Bluntly put: how far we push Earth’s climate and ecosystems before the human health repercussions are of such scale, speed and intensity that human societies will systematically fail to adapt? And if that is the case, when are policies, which support transformation, rather than adaptation, needed?

These are three major issues that this working group will try to address. There are no easy answers, nor magic “silver bullet” solutions. But as we intend to elaborate, innovative policies, institutions and proposals on possible means to adapt to future human health challenges do exist. And some of these are possibly scalable, effective and entail a potential to create multiple “win-wins” afar from improving human health. Our hope is that our work will contribute to a much-needed focus on health solutions, and not just health problems created by climate change.

Commissioners of WG2 of the Lancet Commission 

  • Prof. Yin Yongyuan, Tsinghua University (China), co-lead
  • Ass. Prof. Victor Galaz, Stockholm Resilience Centre (Sweden), co-lead
  • Prof Geogina Mace, UCL and Royal Society (UK)
  • Professor Bing Xu, School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Tsinghua University
  • Dr. Li Moxuan, Center for Earth System Science, Tsinghua University
  • Dr. Koko Warner, United Nations University
  • Prof. Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm Resilience Centre (Sweden)
  • Prof. Delia Grace, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Kenya
  • Dr. Sukaina Bharwani, Stockholm Environment Institute-Oxford and weAdapt

Climate change, extreme events and human health

ucbtgma3 March 2014

Blog by Professor Georgina Mace, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER)

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The past few months have highlighted the impacts that extreme events can have on people’s lives and livelihoods. Ranging from floods in England, storms in Wales, hurricane Haiyan’s devastating effects in the Philippines to extreme heat in Australia, we have seen striking examples of cases where large numbers of people are exposed to natural hazards with which they are poorly equipped to deal. Whether or not these events can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change, they highlight a few points about how vulnerable people are to natural events when those events occur on a scale and at a level of intensity that current systems cannot cope with. It is striking to observe how when infrastructure such as roads and electricity fail, people everywhere suffer a great deal, and the very young, the weak, the elderly and the chronically ill, suffer more than the rest.

The work for the Lancet Commission report, CLIMATE CRISIS: EMERGENCY ACTIONS TO PROTECT HUMAN HEALTH’ will focus on the potential health impacts of climate change on people. These may have often been eclipsed in many discussions by current concerns about economic growth and failing infrastructures. But health and wellbeing is our primary concern. We will review and highlight some immediate costs to people’s wellbeing that will be a consequence of climate change. We are concerned with people’s mental and physical health, their quality of life, and sense of place and security.

My own interest in this area has come about from studying the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and wild species. As for people, the same amount of climate change has very different outcomes for different ecosystems and species, and is generally related to their history (what they have experienced in the past), their biology (their life history and habits) and their geography. Certain kinds of species which have very low tolerances for environmental variability, poor dispersal capability or adaptive potential will be much more vulnerable to even modest changes to climate variables than those that are less sensitive and more resilient. We have mapped out areas of the world where the most vulnerable species are expected to be exposed to the most extreme changes (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0065427). I think this work has relevance to people in a couple of different ways. First, it is likely that the areas where there are sensitive ecosystems and species will also be areas where people may be most at risk because the world’s ecosystems are central to supporting people’s basic needs for a good life; for example, food, freshwater, protection from hazards and diseases. Secondly, a recent history of coping with extreme events prepares both ecosystems and people better, and geography is an important determinant of both environmental extremes and basic resources.

Considering extreme events and their impacts on people, it is very difficult to develop resilience to events when they occur at low frequency and when there is little personal experience or community history of dealing with them. By definition, extreme events are rare; perhaps one in a hundred years or more is what is expected on average. But given the local variability of weather and storm patterns, and the fact that we measure many different events, something unusual will be happening somewhere most of the time. In addition to that, recent increases in population numbers, in wealth and mobility means that people are moving to new areas more often, and they often choose to live near water or on coasts and near the sea. These are areas most exposed to many extreme events and are already home to most of the world’s people. Space is limited and so increasingly people are building homes and living in more vulnerable areas such as river flood plains and coastal zones. Recent increases in the impacts of extreme events are mostly attributable to an increased exposure of people to hazards such as earthquakes, floods and storms, rather than to an increased frequency of such events. So, in thinking about climate change and the impacts on people it is important to separate the intensity and frequency of the events themselves from the impacts that they may have on people.

Recent storm and flooding events have mostly been abrupt and violent. Such events are predicted to increase in frequency under climate change, so whatever the cause, they can show us clearly the kinds of problems that future generations will have to face. But of course, not all such events are so dramatic; there are also slow onset events that will ultimately be devastating for some people too, for example sea level rise causing coastal flooding and inundation, oceans acidulation affecting marine systems, heavier precipitation due to the greater amounts of water held by a warmer atmosphere and severe heat and periods of drought affecting food and water supplies.  All of these will have direct and indirect impacts on people’s lives and affect health and wellbeing in many ways.

Understanding how the climate will change, and how this will influence the frequency and severity of slow onset and extreme events is very important. We need this information to plan and prepare for what may come. But on its own this information is not enough. We also need to look at where the risks are greatest because there are large numbers people who will be exposed to the hazards, and maybe where these populations include people who are especially at risk.

Among the people exposed to extreme events, some are much more vulnerable than others. In the UK we might be concerned especially for the elderly and people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans it became clear that for some people affected by the event, their social and financial wealth made it easier for them to pick up a new life elsewhere; not often an option for the poor. The same comparisons are useful globally. We can ask where the most vulnerable people are, and which of these are most likely to face climate change related hazards that they will have difficulty dealing with. This was an approach taken in a recent report from the ODI, UK Met Office and Risk Management Solutions which examined the relationship between disasters and poverty, and concluded that:

– extreme weather linked to climate change is increasing and will likely cause more disasters.

– such disasters, especially those linked to drought, can be the most important cause of impoverishment, cancelling progress on poverty reduction.

– Up to 325 million extremely poor people will be living in the 49 most hazard-prone countries in 2030, the majority in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The ODI report highlights overlaps in geographical areas where poverty, climate-change related hazards and weak governance are likely to overlap, and hence areas of highest priority to consider to alleviate future suffering.

G Mace Blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are developing this approach for the Lancet report to consider the evidence that climate change will increase extreme events, what and where these may be, who they will affect most severely, and what the options are that people will have to avoid the worst impacts.

The work being undertaken here will also link to a report on Resilience to climate change related extreme event being prepared as a science-policy output from the Royal Society

Climate Crisis: Emergency Actions to Protect Human Health

Ellie Forward3 March 2014

Blog by Nick Watts, Head of Project, UCL-Lancet Commission
Join the conversation: Follow Nick on Twitter

“Above all, be visionary – this Commission is designing integrated solutions to what has been described as the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. These were the parting words of Richard Horton – the editor of The Lancet – to the Commissioners at a recent London meeting.

LancetThe 2014 UCL-Lancet Commission on Climate Change and Health is an ambitious initiative bringing together senior international climate scientists, economists, energy experts, and health professionals to present mitigation and adaptation policies necessary to protect human health from climate change, and promote sustainable development. The Commission is truly interdisciplinary and international, consisting a tripartite collaboration between University College London, Tsinghua University, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Within UCL, the Commission is working across the Institute of Global Health, the Energy Institute, the Institute for Sustainable Resources, the Geography Department, and the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy. Presenting its work in February 2015, the commission will ultimately aim to be policy-relevant, taking an academic ‘honest broker’ approach where experts in areas relating to climate change use their knowledge to integrate scientific knowledge more cohesively with policy.

Published in the Lancet – arguably the most influential medical journal in the world – the Commission understands climate change as a ‘health emergency’. Its work is divided in to five working groups, each tackling a particular part of the policy response to this crisis, and tasked with producing a chapter for the final report. Over the next week, a post from each of the working groups should give you a better idea of what they’ve got planned. But in the meantime, here’s a brief summary of what they’re looking at:

1)     WG1 will set the stage by laying out the latest evidence in climate science and the impacts these global environmental changes are having on human wellbeing. The group will attempt to employ innovative methods to demonstrate how global patterns of vulnerability shift with environmental and demographic changes;

2)     In light of the scientific update above, section 2 will examine the most effective solutions to improve resilience in the most vulnerable communities. One area of particular interest being explored is with regards to identifying the limits to adaptation;

3)     Experts in energy and climate change mitigation will explore the emergency technical solutions available, prioritising them according to their cost-effectiveness, time to implementation, and feasibility. In particular, Commissioners in WG3 will explore the ‘epidemiology of energy policy’, looking at what happens when large-scale policy changes are implemented in practice.

4)     The fourth component of the report will discuss a broad range of alternatives to financing the defined technical solutions. They’re looking at a broad range of responses, including international trade, taxation (regressive and progressive), capital and bond markets, and investment incentives and penalties.

5)     The final section will bring together the above policy options, providing insight in to the political mechanisms necessary to trigger a cascade of technical and financial action.

The task ahead of the UCL-Lancet Commission is indeed ambitious, with more than 60 academics and experts from around the world working on it right up until early 2015. The key findings of our work will take some time to come to light, but if the last 12 months are anything to go by, the results of the Commission will most certainly “be visionary”.