Millions of lives could be saved annually by 2040 if countries raise their climate ambitions to meet Paris Agreement targets, according to a new study from the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change on Wednesday.
The study published in a special issue of the Lancet Planetary Health journal highlighted the health benefits if countries adopt bolder nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that are consistent with the Paris Agreement aim of limiting global warming to well below 2°C.
The study modeled the ambitions of nine countries: Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK and the US.
These countries represent 50% of the world's population and 70% of global emissions. However, the current NDCs of these countries are not enough to achieve the Paris Agreement and risk a global temperature rise of greater than 3°C.
According to the study, adopting policies that are consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement and prioritizing health could save annually up to 6 million lives due to better diet, 1.6 million lives due to cleaner air and 2.1 million lives due to increased exercise across the nine countries by 2040.
"Unlike the direct benefits of carbon mitigation which are ultimately long-term and understood in terms of damage limitation, the health co-benefits of ambitious climate policies have an immediate positive impact," Executive Director of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, Ian Hamilton, said.
"The message is stark. Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions from dying prematurely each year, but the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health. We have an opportunity now to place health in the forefront of climate change policies to save even more lives," he noted.
Adopting the more ambitious pathway with explicit health objectives within the NDCs could result in a further reduction of 462,000, 572,000, and 943,000 annual deaths attributable to air pollution, diet, and physical inactivity, respectively, the study revealed.
Paris signatories are updating and revising their NDCs ahead of COP26 in Glasgow this year. Although they were due for submission before the end of last year, the majority of countries are still to announce their updated contributions.
US President Joe Biden had promised to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 but even with these new announcements, the world is not yet on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals and would still face 2.5°C of warming by the end of the century.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya