Pollution and Climate Change – Twin Threats With Shared Sources, Solutions

Pollution and climate change are twin threats, or as the UN puts it, two sides of the same coin. If we solve pollution, we will not only impact climate change, but also save lives now. For too long, pollution and climate change have been considered separate issues. 

The following is an except from a Commentary “Pollution prevention and climate change mitigation: measuring the health benefits of comprehensive interventions,” published in The Lancet Planetary Health, December 2018. Read the full piece by Philip Landrigan and Richard Fuller (co-chairs, Commission on Pollution and Health), Andy Haines, Nick Watts, and former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.


Pollution and climate change are two hallmarks of the Anthropocene Age; they are grave consequences of human activity on planetary health.

These twin threats arise from many of the same sources: the burning of fossil fuels for electricity generation and of biomass fuels for cooking and heating, modern globalised systems of production and transportation, mechanised agriculture, urbanisation, and the growing global manufacture and use of toxic chemicals.

The effects of pollution and climate change, for the most part, have been considered separately, and progress toward controlling these two threats has been tracked using different metrics. The health effects of pollution are quantified as disease burden and premature deaths through the GBD study, whereas climate change is tracked through trends in atmospheric CO2, global temperature, and patterns of precipitation, as well as by monitoring progress on mitigation and adaptation..

However, this artificial separation ignores the common origins and transposable effects of many health toxins and climate pollutants, such as tropospheric ozone and black carbon, and, most importantly, does not quantify the impacts of climate change on human health. This division is also inefficient and can result in missed opportunities for disease prevention.

The challenge now is to break down the barriers … and to report the health and economic benefits of both pollution prevention and climate change mitigation together, as part of national policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Integration of pollution control with climate change mitigation against a background of rigorous quantification will mark an important advance for planetary health and produce measurable benefits for human wellbeing.

Photo: Sophia Valkova, Unsplash

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