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29 December 2016
Co-benefits to Health of Climate Change Actions  

Introduction

Climate change is an imminent public health threat. Apart from altering transmission and occurrence of infectious diseases, climate change will also directly and indirectly increase the incidence of Non-communicable Diseases (NCD) such as cancer, chronic respiratory disease and cardiovascular diseases. Urgent action is required to protect health from climate change. In fact, mitigation of climate change in various sectors, including housing, transportation and energy, has many co-benefits that are reflected through substantial health gains and reduced health risks.

Moreover, many individual actions to cut down carbon footprint could also result in benefits of own health.

Healthy Eating

The global prevalent dietary transition from locally sourced and unprocessed foods to imported and often highly processed options is contributing to climate change. Excessive consumption of animal products – particularly red and processed meat – has detrimental impacts on both climate and health. Indeed, agriculture and food production account for 10-20% of greenhouse-gas emission. Livestock farming is responsible for fourth-fifth of these emissions. On the other hand, it is well-proven that excessive consumption of processed meat and red meat causes colorectal cancer and link with a number of cancers such as stomach, prostate and pancreatic cancers. A change in diet to more seasonal vegetables and fruits but less processed meat and red meat can help to slow down climate change and improve our health. Moreover, consuming less processed drinks (such as by drinking plain water with own cup instead of drinking bottled sugar-added beverages) can not only minimize material consumption and waste generation, but also result in health benefit such as avoiding obesity from excess energy intake.

The Department of Health (DH) has been promoting healthy diet all along. DH also has a series of programmes, in collaboration with other government departments and stakeholders to promote healthy eating. Please visit the EatSmart website to know more about the programmes.

Energy Saving

Energy production by burning of fossil fuels for electricity and vehicle use have released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide causing climate change as well as particulate matters resulting in air pollution. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is a major environmental risk to health and is attributable to the burden of disease from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. While the Government is working to increase the use of low-emissions fuels and renewable energy sources as well as promoting low carbon transport and energy-efficient buildings, individuals can help to reduce energy consumption through daily life (such as switch off air-conditioners, lights and computers when not in use), to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, thus reducing the risk of air pollution related diseases.

For more information of energy saving tips, please visit Environment Bureau’s Energy Saving for All website.

Active Transport

Urbanisation has brought with change in occupation and ways of life, leading to lower levels of physical activity and more frequent car use. Promoting active transport (i.e. forms of transport which involve physical activity, such as walking and cycling) has the dual benefit of reducing carbon emissions and incorporating physical activity into daily routine. Potential health gains of a sensible shift from private motorized transport to walking, safe cycling and rapid transit/public transport systems include large benefits from increased physical activity, which can prevent certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease and obesity-related risks, in addition to the prevention of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases from air pollution.

Urging Your Actions

Last but not least, intersectoral collaboration and partnership is the key to ensure that actions on climate change contribute to the goal of NCD prevention, and vice versa. The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and DH take the lead to coordinate the government’s works for these challenges. More importantly, you can take part in combating climate change and NCD by doing simple and personal actions.  

To learn more about the relevant government works and individual actions, please visit the Climate Change website by EPD and the Change for Health website by DH. 

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