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Commission’s good news on health benefits should tip balance for higher EU climate target

Reaction to European Commission Staff Working Paper on climate change

Brussels, 30 January 2012 – The billions of Euros in health benefits from stronger climate action that are estimated in a European Commission paper (1) published today is an opportunity not to be missed to increase the EU’s climate ambition. First, these health savings should be used to help engage health ministers to see higher climate targets as an investment for public health, and secondly, these savings give European governments the economic case they need to commit to a 30% emissions reductions target according to the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a leading health and environment not-for-profit organisation.

The Commission Staff Working Paper entitled “Analysis of options beyond 20% GHG emission reductions: Member state results” (1) says that “the 30% reduction scenario has become considerably less costly” thus rebutting the arguments that have held Europe back from strengthening its emissions reductions target for 2020. It gives strong focus to health economic benefits, which it estimates at €3.4 to €7.9 billion annually due to reduced mortality.

“Governments should seize this good news on health benefits to raise the EU’s climate ambition under the Danish Presidency. The health economic benefits for both the EU and member states are significant, and yet we know they are just the tip of the iceberg, and do not reflect the full public health benefits of moving to 30%, as recent studies have shown”, states Genon Jensen, HEAL Executive Director. The even better news is that the Commission’s analysis is probably an underestimation given they do not include morbidity (ill-health), nor do they include the full range of health benefits from climate mitigation measures in the transport and agricultural sector, such as from increased walking and cycling. (3)

“The analysis does not include the other benefits that accrue to society when we are not sick, such as fewer working days lost because of illness, fewer medications or fewer hospital admissions. It only covers the savings from avoiding deaths due to fewer respiratory and heart conditions because of improvements in air quality.”

A report analysing the health co-benefits commissioned by HEAL (2) demonstrated that achieving the current 20% emissions reduction target in the EU would produce health benefits (including morbidity and mortality savings) equivalent to between €13 and €52 billion per year from 2020 onwards. It went on to show that raising the domestic target to 30% would save an additional €10-30 billion per year. Translating these pan European savings at a member state level, the biggest winners would be Germany with benefits of up to 8 billion Euros per year from 2020 and Poland with up to 4 billion Euros annually. France and Italy would benefit too with annual savings of €3.5 and €3.4 billion respectively.

“Stronger climate targets will have a positive effect on many health conditions such as reducing rates of bronchitis, asthma and heart attacks, as well as depression. Associating climate action with real improvements in people’s health is a message that still needs to become much more central to climate discussions.”

For example, the Lancet, a leading medical journal, has published a series on health and climate change, which states that if cities introduce initiatives to reduce carbon emissions by increasing walking and cycling, heart, respiratory and mental health would improve, and breast and prostate cancer rates would decline.

“The EU member states must act quickly and put the EU on track to a low cost emission reduction pathway by 2050 by increasing its climate ambition for 2020.” Ms Jensen added, “Our findings showed that if we start today the overall benefits for citizens’ health will be more than twice as big as they would be if we delay action until 2015.” We believe this merits the serious attention of health ministers and EU Health Commissioner Dalli, and urge for discussion on this issue at the next Health Council and an EU meeting of chief medical officers.

More and more doctors and medical groups throughout Europe are championing the health message and urging both member states and the EU to adopt strong climate targets on health grounds. For example, the first ever Climate and Health Summit, held in parallel to the Durban climate talks, issued the Durban Declaration and Health Sector Call to Action (4) (5) which asks for “…solutions that reduce the local health impacts of fossil fuels; solutions that foster clean energy and social justice; solutions that save lives and money while protecting public health from climate change.” Just prior to Durban, over 500 leading medical and security experts endorsed a statement that explicitly urged “The European Union to unconditionally agree a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions domestically by 30% by 2020.” (6)

Genon Jensen, Executive Director, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Tel: +32 2 234 3642. Mobile: +32 495 808732, Email:

Anne Stauffer, Deputy Director, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Tel: +32 2 234 36 43, Mobile: +32 473 711092, Email:

Notes for journalists
1. The Commission Staff Working Paper, 30 January 2012 entitled “Analysis of options beyond 20% GHG emission reductions: Member state results”

2. Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and Health Care Without Harm Europe (HCWH), Acting Now for Better Health, A 30% reduction target for EU climate policy, September 2010. Available for download at

3. The Lancet, Health and Climate Change, November 2009

4. Issued at the Climate and Health Summit (organised by Health Care Without Harm and others) See Durban Declaration on climate and health:

5. Health Sector call to Action:

6. BMJ Statement:

Originally posted on 30 January 2012

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »


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