What if addressing our most pressing environmental challenges such as climate change could also put us on course to reducing the global burden of disease, particularly the noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) that caused 63% of global deaths in 2008? Yes, climate change and NCDs are two winnable battles.
According to the World Health Organization, 36 million deaths around the world were caused by Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) like heart diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes. Moreover, 80% of premature NCDs are preventable. We may be familiar with individually-based forms of prevention, such as increasing physical activity, eating a low fat diet, and eliminating smoking. However, a body of scientific evidence demonstrates that many environmentally and climate friendly changes can have a positive impact on reducing NCDs as well. When cities invest in green urban design, such as improving public transit and creating safe walking and cycling routes, they help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while boosting healthy physical activity that can reduce incidence of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Introducing the use of clean cookstoves reduces reliance on solid fuels (biomass) which burn inefficiently, produce harmful and polluting smoke, and contribute to the incidence of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and a range of other respiratory diseases. Finally, shifting production policies in the agricultural sector to prioritize the cultivation of fruits, vegetables and legumes and produce fewer animal-based foods will help to lower consumption of saturated fats associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Though each of these strategies would make a difference on its own, to create change that will be truly effective, leaders must work across sectors to build and sustain collaborative approaches. Promoting multi-sectoral collaboration that places health in the center of decision making – a “Health in All Policies” approach -- is central to building the key partnerships among members of the health, environmental, transport, energy, and agricultural sectors.
A strong multi-sectoral approach supports health in a green economy by promoting health and environmental co-benefits and avoiding health risks from policies in sectors such as transport, housing, household energy, and agriculture. Green investment (e.g. greener transport, urban planning, green housing and energy policies) is a low-cost means of preventing cardiovascular and chronic respiratory disease, obesity-related conditions and cancers, and yielding benefits for health equity. As it turns out, a climate win is a health win!