Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by England and Wales by 2050 will lead to 2 million extra years of life, study finds.
The UK has legally committed to net zero by 2050. Many of the proposed policies will reduce harmful environmental factors such as air pollution and encourage healthy behaviors including diet and health. exercise, but this is the first time researchers have comprehensively modeled how net zero affects health.
Implementing net zero policies will result in “substantial reductions in mortality”, according to the study published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.
And the combination of policies will lead to at least 2 million more years lived in the population of England and Wales by 2050, according to the researchers.
“Our modeling confirms that implementing net zero policies has significant health benefits,” said Dr James Milner, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who led the research. “Not only are these policies essential for mitigating climate change, but they also make us healthier.”
The study measured health benefits by looking only at reductions in mortality. However, in addition to reducing mortality, evidence suggests that net zero policies may also result in people living with fewer health problems.
Renovating houses with insulation would account for 836,000 of the additional 2 million years lived, as long as ventilation measures are provided for the renovated houses, the study suggests.
“The central role played by retrofitting homes with insulation in delivering these health benefits is particularly striking,” Milner said.
“Housing in England and Wales is poorly insulated compared to other countries, so measures taken to improve the energy efficiency of homes are proving particularly beneficial in reducing carbon emissions and improving health. .
“The energy and cost of living crises this winter have provided a long list of reasons for the UK to adopt an ambitious insulation policy; our study adds better health to that list.
The researchers examined six net zero policies in four different sectors: electricity supply, transport, housing and food. They used modeling to estimate how these policies affect health, considering how much they reduced air pollution, improved diet health and increased exercise.
The researchers considered two scenarios – a balanced pathway in which a 60% reduction in emissions was achieved by 2035, and a widespread commitment pathway in which behavior changed more rapidly with respect to food and lifestyle choices. journey.
They measured the impact of policies on health by looking at how many more years people would live in the population as a whole.
After retrofitting homes with insulation, the second and third most important health-promoting policies were switching to renewable energy to power homes and reducing red meat consumption, saving 657% respectively. 000 and 412,000 years of life.
Replacing car journeys with walking or cycling saved 125,000 life years, while switching to renewables for power generation saved 46,000 life years. Switching to renewable energy for transport has saved 30,000 years of life.
The balanced pathway led to an additional 2 million years lived in the population of England and Wales. Health benefits were even better under the widespread engagement pathway, totaling almost 2.5 million life years gained by 2050.
“If we act faster on adopting more environmentally friendly diets and active modes of travel, the health benefits will be even greater,” Milner said.
The researchers pointed out several limitations of their study. But they also said the results would likely underestimate the health benefits of net zero policies.
Indeed, they were not able to model all the potential health benefits, they explained – for example, reductions in agricultural air pollution and less nitrogen dioxide pollution from transport.
The researchers were also unable to capture the benefits of other countries implementing their net zero policies on the population of England and Wales, which is likely to reduce air pollution. air from continental Europe, for example.
Write in the Lancet Planetary Health journal, the researchers concluded: “Achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions is likely to result in substantial public health benefits in England and Wales, with the cumulative net benefits being proportionately greater with a pathway which involves faster and more ambitious changes, especially in physical activity and diet.