There is growing evidence that certain climate change mitigation measures might also reduce adverse health impacts or even promote health gains. Thus, health co-benefits could partly offset the costs of tackling climate change (Haines et al. 2009, Ganten et al. 2010, IAMP 2010). This is particularly important since the effects of mitigation policies take decades to manifest themselves due to the inertia of the climate system and are often widely dispersed worldwide. Consequently, a return on investment in terms of reduced climate impacts is difficult to be assessed and may only accrue to a very small extent to those who bear the costs. In contrast the health co-benefits of climate change mitigation can be realised more directly and often more quickly, thus making them more tangible and attractive to policy makers and the public.
To address this issue our project focuses on two promising areas namely changes in urban mobility and diet in Austria. We ask what the overall climate and health co-benefits in these areas are, in both economic terms and in quantifiable terms beyond economics: emission reductions compared to Austria’s national emission reports and health gains expressed in disability adjusted life years [DALYs] compared to the Austrian burden of disease. Thus, our proposed study integrates climate, health and economic effects to assess their combined efficiency of selected climate mitigation measures. This research question is at the forefront of science internationally (e.g. Shindell et al. 2012). The results are intended to increase political acceptance for the Austrian transition towards a low-carbon society regarding urban mobility and diet, since climate and health policy concerns are addressed simultaneously. Our results can foster social acceptance for necessary behavioural changes, since especially in these two areas they provide near time direct health rewards for the actor or actor’s local community.
The integrated assessment of climate benefits and health co-benefits focusses on two areas:
Urban mobility: A smartly guided change in urban mobility reduces emissions from motor vehicles which in turn decreases the health burden from urban traffic (outdoor air pollution, noise, accidents). Additionally, increases in the distances walked and cycled would also lead to health benefits via increased exercise. Largest health gains would be mainly from reductions in the prevalence of ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic lung diseases, and diabetes (Greenaway et al. 2008, WHO 2009, Woodcock et al. 2009). Additionally such strategies are cost-efficient investments for individuals and societies (WHO 2011). WBGU argues “[…] particularly non-motorised forms of mobility, i. e. walking or cycling are encouraged as alternatives, not least because this also impacts positively on health” (2011: 141).
Diet: A change to a healthier diet with concomitant reductions in consumption of livestock products (especially red meat) reduces emissions from the agro-food system. Furthermore it allows alternative uses of redundant agricultural land, allowing, e.g., a reduction of imports, forestation or production of renewable energy carriers. Health co-benefits of such diet changes act on public health, for example via reductions in ischaemic heart disease (Friel et al. 2009, Friends of the Earth 2010, Hawkesworth et al. 2010, Kickbusch et al. 2010, Fazeni and Steinmüller 2011). The German Advisory Council on Global Change states: “[…] a healthy diet is also climate-friendly” (WBGU 2011: 145). Also the 10 national health goals of Austria recommend diet changes and increased physical exercise (BMG 2012, see also WHO Europe 2013a).
More fundamentally we strive for substantiating the interlinkages between the global environmental change and public health communities by providing a sound case that integrates a wide range of topics from climate and health effects to economic issues.
Finally we want to improve the quality and relevance of the project results as well as the feasibility of implementation by engaging with a scientific advisor and policy experts from the Austrian Federal Ministries of Environment, Traffic and Health. This will be achieved via different communication tools like panel discussions and/or face to face interviews and/or written commenting phases.
How will the project advance science?
ClimBHealth will enhance existing knowledge on these first assessments of climate mitigation measures and their health co-benefits by assessing the overall benefits of climate mitigation measures for Austria. For the first time this will be done at the national level assessing a) GHG emission reduction, b) reduced burden of disease (mortality and morbidity), c) net costs for implementation, health care and acquisition of emission certificates – considering also macroeconomic effects and d) further sustainability relevant issues. This approach will lead to a comprehensive integration of prior research projects covering the topic partially, and will include existing data not used for such an assessment so far. To jointly address climate, health and economic aspects while at the same time considering synergies to such an extent is novel. Furthermore the project will strengthen efforts of introducing indicators beyond economic accounting (i.e. DALYs, see below).