A roadmap to protect millions of lives from the effects of climate change

When it comes to climate change, millions of lives are on the line, and we have the roadmap which could protect them from the effects of climate change.

When it comes to climate change, the story of the current century remains mostly unwritten, the ink still dry. One path, of closer ties between countries, a change in dietary habits and the way we power our economies, could keep our planet from changing radically beyond recognition.

Some countries have strengthened their efforts since we did this analysis, with the UK and EU submitting stronger NDC targets, China announcing its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality before the year 2060

– The Lancet, Planetary Health

The other path, of inaction or backsliding on our behaviours, could spell disaster and cost millions of lives over the next 20 years alone. Lancet Planetary Health published a paper, outlining how compliance with the Paris Agreement, or at the very least attempting to meet targets set out in this document are essential to saving these millions of people.

Quite by chance, the building blocks of the rosier, healthier, happier future are being put in place right now. But which way will things turn out?

Paris Agreement could save lives

Through changes in eating habits, towards a more flexitarian diet with a higher concentration of fruit and vegetables on a daily basis, the Lancet Planetary Health estimates that across just nine countries, 5.8 million lives could be saved, assuming they follow the Paris Agreement. The paper dubbed this path the SPS, or Sustainable Pathways Scenario.

In the UK alone, more exercise could save over 21,000 lives by 2040, under the SPS. Improved air quality could save more than 3,000 lives, while a healthier diet could spare over 98,000 deaths by 2040, all based on meeting the outcome of the SPS. What this suggests is certainly that tens of thousands of lives can be extended and improved upon, largely thanks to shifts in behaviour on an individual level.

However, the paper admitted that deaths prevented from improved diet, air quality and more exercise could not be compiled to give a total figure of potential deaths prevented, as there is potential crossover between the three variables. Even so, the findings from the Lancet Planetary Health paper give us a tantalising glimpse and how promising the future can be.

Air quality is a pressing issue for the UK – so much so that MPs from the EFRA Committee urged the government so take more proactive measures, to learn the lessons of lockdown, and ensure a long-term decline in emissions.

All eyes on COP26

COP26 has become a useful anchor for countries to convene, in order to ascertain the lay of the land, and see which road the world is heading towards. Expected to be held in Edinburgh in November 2021, COP26 will allow countries to show what Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) they have made and intend to make towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Encouragingly, the authors of the Lancet Planetary Health’s Paris Agreement compliance paper see causes for optimism. As part of their conclusion, they claim, “Some countries have strengthened their efforts since we did this analysis, with the UK and EU submitting stronger NDC targets, China announcing its commitment to achieving carbon neutrality before the year 2060, and the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris administration promising to commit to net zero emissions by the year 2050.”

However, the UK, the EU, the US and China are but a fraction of the world’s population, and their great commitments risk being undermined if other countries don’t comply or make an effort themselves. Preventing the world from warming by more than two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels is akin to the lives that could be saved from halting the spread of COVID-19, and preventing all the mutant strains from arising.

As with COVID-19, preventing climate change will almost certainly be better than the cure, and millions of lives can be saved in both regards as a result.

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