GONG Peng | The Health Impacts of Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality in China


On December 22, 2021, on the first anniversary of the establishment of the Peking University Institute for Global Health and Development (PKU-iGHD), the “2021 Peking University Global Health and Development Forum: Human Health and Medical Innovation in the Era of Low Carbon Economy”was successfully held. Prof. GONG Peng, Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of Hong Kong, delivered a keynote speech at Global Health and Low-Carbon Economic Transition.

We can see that climate has had a deep impact on China over the past 20 years or so. In 2015, we published a paper in Lancet trying to establish a systematic view of how climate change is impacting health. Some intermediate factors eventually drive into the health aspects. This paper has been widely used as a reference for people to study the impact of climate on human health.

Since the systematic review, we set up a monitoring system and begin to do comprehensive evaluation on an annual basis by gradually expanding the international participation in the world. Then in 2020, we also published our first China report. Compared to the global report, the China report is more focused with provincial granularity. So it is a more detailed analysis of China's situation. We established a team in China to do this. This year, a couple of months ago, we also published the second report on China's climate change and health.

The China Lancet Countdown report has almost 90 experts and it is examining 25 indicators of China. The first China report in 2020 systematically looked at climate change and health. The report is divided into (1) climate change impact, exposure and vulnerability, (2) adaptation planning and resilience for health, (3) mitigation actions and health co-benefits, (4) the economic aspects and financial aspects that we could use to address climate change issues to improve health, and lastly, (5) the public and political engagement. So we divide our authorship into five groups to work together, to do systematic studies.

The new 2021 China report has some key messages. First, China has made important progress in addressing many aspects of the health risks of climate change. But there is still room for improvement. China's health risks from climate change are increasing. So we need timely intervention. Addressing extreme weather events is a compulsory course for every department and every person. China’s risks from climate change are increasing, as exemplified by heatwave-related mortality, factorial capacity increase that increases the transmission risk of various kinds of diseases, including Dengue, and wildfire exposure are increased. On the other hand, the effort of adaptation has made China more resistant or resilient to drought and flood. So there are some positive adaptation aspects.

Another message is that each individual province in China faces unique climate health risks. We cannot apply the same set of rules and procedures to address health impacts from climate change. For example, in Beijing, the population affected by floods has been increasing and factorial capacity has been growing very rapidly, while in Guangdong there are more health risks. Particularly, the heatwave-related mortality in Guangdong has increased 24.5 times so as several other aspects for the time. We also can find that China has made great efforts in promoting the carbon peaking and also carbon neutrality goals and increasing the clean energy investment, and steadily increasing the carbon intensity of the energy system. Low carbon investment still increased for the past year. But there is room for improvement. For example, last year we have increased the carbon emission and most of the cities are having PM2.5 concentrations higher than the WHO guidelines standards.

On the adaptation side, China is making all sorts of progress. All of the 30 provinces reported that they have completed or were developing provincial health adaptation plans. But some improvements need to be made. For example, there is no standalone national health adaptation plan, and the assessment and adaptation planning process is absent in the majority of the provinces. So we made four policy proposals or recommendations. One is to provide systematic thinking in the related department and strengthen multi-departmental collaboration. The second is to do an additional assessment of the health impact of climate change and make a national and regional specific adaptation plan. The third is to strengthen China's climate mitigation actions. And the fourth is to increase awareness of the linkages between climate change and health at all levels.

The Lancet Countdown report specifically targets on China's progress up to 2030s. How does carbon mitigation affect health? So this chart shows that a majority of the effort has been paid to outdoor air pollution and study their impact on the health.

Actually, there are different carbon neutrality pathways on the health aspect. If we choose to reduce positive emissions by using renewable energy, we will gain tremendously due to the reduced carbon emission for the health aspect, but the cost is very high and it is a huge transition pressure.

On the other hand, if we choose only to use increased and active emission by increasing carbon sinks and carbon sequestration, not to mention that the technology is not readily applicable in many aspects, but also, the remaining heavy carbon emission sectors would cause high health damage. So we need to balance both. We need to develop ways to assess along the different pathways and seek an optimal solution.

So we developed a model. It incorporates scenario setting and also carbon neutrality scenarios. It integrates three aspects in the modeling effort, and eventually to help us to evaluate the health co-benefit and the economic cost, and involved in it different strategies of carbon emission mitigation, and also negative emissions.

As some initial test of the model and trying to answer optimality issues, we realize that the carbon neutrality goal, no matter which pathway we use, is going to have a significant health benefit. For example, if we only use the carbon negative emission approach, by 2060, we will be able to achieve a life expectancy increase of 0.88 years. If we use clean energy and renewable energy path, we will gain 2.8 years. This is a very worthwhile message that politicians and decision-makers should consider. Thank you very much.

Related News