Climate Protection Saves Lives Now

By Raloff, Janet | Science News, November 8, 1997 | Go to article overview

Climate Protection Saves Lives Now


Raloff, Janet, Science News


Diplomats who will be negotiating in Kyoto, Japan, next month for an aggressive new treaty to curb emissions of greenhouse gases received an unanticipated bargaining chip this week. An international analysis concludes that such climate protection policies could save hundreds of thousands of lives annually by 2020.

This preliminary study "shows that if sensible policies are taken on greenhouse gases, they will have benefits far beyond climate change prevention," says epidemiologist Tord Kjellstrom, director of the Office of Global and Integrated Environmental Health of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva and an organizer of the team that conducted the analysis.

Moreover, notes coauthor Devra Lee Davis of the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., "these health benefits show up immediately--the year the policies are put in place."

Any controls that limit fossil fuel combustion, the major source of carbon dioxide--and the leading agent of global warming--also limit emissions of the traditional combustion pollutants, such as microscopic particles. When inhaled, these dustlike particulates can aggravate respiratory and heart diseases. Indeed, as concentrations of airborne particulates rise, so do death rates from these diseases (SN: 7/1/95, p. 5).

Last year, WHO issued a 4009age report on projected health impacts of climate change. It focused on problems associated with heat (SN: 4/6/96, p. 218) and only briefly acknowledged likely effects of particulates on health, Kjellstrom notes.

To investigate this issue, he and Davis teamed up with colleagues from a host of institutions, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Their Working Group on Public Health and Fossil-Fuel Combustion analyzed how fossil fuel use would drop if the European Union's proposed restrictions take effect (SN: 11/1/97, p. 277). In that proposal, industrial nations would cut greenhouse gas releases by 2010 to a level 15 percent below their 1990 emissions. …

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