Health and environmental quality

Climate change affects not only our planet but our ability to live and work. The potentially deadly impacts of extreme heat on human health are already being felt all over the world, and record temperatures and wildfires in the UK last year, remind us that we must act now to prevent further risk. 

Beyond the immediate risk posed to our global health by extreme weather, increased emissions from the way we travel are impacting the quality of our air, plastic pollution in our water threatens marine species as well as humans, and our access to a varied diet is under threat from climate-caused food shortages. Many of these consequences of climate change, which have felt like far-off dystopian outcomes, have been made to feel very real over recent years. 

The Global South is at a higher risk from these consequences. Rising global temperatures, whilst inconvenient for us in the UK, make working and even living, almost impossible in many geographies around the world. It is also the case that those with the least agency over their transition to a net zero economy will be the first to be permanently displaced by climate change, with the rest of the world woefully unprepared to support the humanitarian crisis triggered by the mass movement of people. 

To better alleviate these pressures on global health services, our food supply, and our wellbeing, policymakers must work with academia to advocate for emerging solutions which allow us to identify, map, and mitigate the impacts of climate change on global health. 

In the run-up to COP28, national and international policymakers have a unique opportunity to advocate for emerging interventions which are vital when trying to understand the causes of global ill health, the solutions already at our disposal which can prevent ill health, and the legislative frameworks which safeguard future generations.  This paper recommends a series of national and international interventions which if adopted, would build on existing expertise, and go some way to addressing the challenges we face.

National Policy Recommendations

  • The Government must develop a strategy for securing access to critical minerals. As countries around the world seek to reduce their carbon emissions, there is an ever-growing demand for those critical minerals that are vital for the transition to renewable energy and a greener economy. We expect demand for these minerals to grow rapidly and this will be exacerbated by vulnerabilities in their supply chains. This strategy may involve domestic primary extraction of minerals and greater processing capacity, coupled with robust governance structures to ensure high levels of environmental protection.
  • The Government needs to develop an appropriate regulatory regime for non-exhaustant emissions from road transport. Non exhaustant emissions are now more prominent due to tyre, brake and road wear. Electric cars will continue to produce non-exhaustant emissions despite being better for the environment overall and this must be taken into consideration.
  • The Government should launch a thorough review of the potential benefits of promoting e-cycling as an alternative to motor vehicles. The true potential of promoting e-bike use in the UK is not fully understood due to a lack of data collection and monitoring of e-bike initiatives. E-bike use has the potential to reduce transport-related emissions and traffic congestion to a greater extent than electric cars while providing physical and mental health benefits. 

Global Policy Recommendations

  • The international community must develop effective circular economy models which will ensure a supply of secondary critical materials through effective systems of sustainable production and consumption and the effective recycling and reuse of critical minerals.
  • Governments must utilise scientific evidence to inform future place-based air quality solutions. For example, Clean Air Zones and Low Emission Zones aim to discourage the use of the most polluting vehicles, typically in urban areas. They are being increasingly introduced by local authorities to achieve compliance with legally binding air quality objectives. However, many questions remain regarding their effectiveness to improve air quality, health, and their impacts on wider society.
  • Global governments should work together to create sustainable cooling and cold chain for food which when delivered with renewable sources and energy storage technologies could provide nutritious food, reduce hunger, reduce carbon emissions from using fossil fuels and direct emissions from refrigeration leakage.

Policy brief contributors

Dr Suzanne Bartington

Dr Suzanne Bartington

Clinical Associate Professor in Environmental Health
Honorary Consultant in Public Health
UKRI Clean Air Champion

Institute of Applied Health Research

Dr Suzanne Bartington leads interdisciplinary research and policy impact focussed activities at the intersect of air quality, climate change and health.

Suzanne has developed specific interests in developing clean air and climate solutions which deliver co-benefits for public health and equity. In her role as UK Clean Air Championshe works closely with policymakers, commercial and ...

Email
s.bartington@bham.ac.uk

Professor Aleksandra Cavoski

Professor Aleksandra Cavoski

Professor of Environmental Law
College Director of Global Engagement

Birmingham Law School

Professor Aleksandra Cavoski’s research interests are in the field of environmental law and EU law, including certain aspects of public international law. Her research agenda is inter-disciplinary and explores the intersection of law and other disciplines, in particular politics, science, public policy and language. Aleksandra is the College of Arts and Law Director of Global ...

Email
a.cavoski@bham.ac.uk

Dr Niheer Dasandi

Dr Niheer Dasandi

Director of Research
Senior Lecturer in Politics and Development

International Development Department

Niheer Dasandi is Senior Lecturer in Politics and Development and Director of Research in IDD.

His research looks at the politics of international development, focusing in particular on the relationship between human rights and development; examining states’ foreign policy preferences in international politics; and the health dimensions of climate change. He is part of the Lancet Countdown ...

Telephone
+44 (0)121 415 1058
Email
n.dasandi@bham.ac.uk