Public health risk driving support to quit coal and go 100% renewable


With the world at a critical juncture for clean energy and climate action, leading health experts have launched a unique initiative to track the impact of climate change and fossil fuel burning on public health over the next 15 years. ‘The Lancet Countdown’ will employ the services of 16 top research institutions around the world to track climate health impacts and other related trends, such as air pollution, which is now blamed for 18,000 premature deaths every day and economic impacts totalling $225bn a year. These yearly check-ins will increase pressure on local and national leaders to do more to protect human health, and indeed we are already seeing this in action in Australia, with the former head of the World Medical Association challenging Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on public health risks posed by his government’s lacklustre climate commitments and addiction to coal. It also calls into question the morality of the $24 billion G20 countries are pouring into the deadly coal industry, especially when governments are, in real terms, shelling out $5.3 trillion per year on fossil fuel companies due to the health costs associated with this harmful industry.


Key Points

  • Leading health experts have launched an unprecedented global project to track the impact of air pollution on human health for the next 15 years, putting governments on notice that their responsibility to protect public health from fossil fuels is under the microscope. Deaths from air pollution are far greater than the number of deaths due to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined, and the emissions from burning fossil fuels are primarily responsible for our current smog crisis. The recent ‘airpocalypse’ in New Delhi and the news that 300 million children worldwide are exposed to toxic air on a daily basis has already prompted medical institutions, like the World Health Organisation, to accelerate the decarbonisation of our economies. This new initiative will help to put public health and welfare at the centre of ongoing efforts to curb carbon pollution.
  • Medical experts are crystal clear: tackling the ‘world’s greatest’ environmental health risk means we have to speed up the phase-out of coal and bury this ‘silent killer’. Shutting down existing coal plants, avoiding new coal operations and rejecting false solutions like ‘clean coal’ will directly save lives by cutting air pollution, and as a bonus will help curb global warming along with its associated health impacts. The global coal industry is already in structural decline as sovereign wealth and pensions funds increasingly ditch risky fossil investments, often in favour of renewable energy as costs fall. And despite more fighting-talk from President-elect Trump, and the efforts of some wayward governments like Japan and Turkey to keep this outdated, 19th century industry afloat with massive public subsidies, old ship coal is sinking and investors are abandoning it for renewable energy lifeboats.






  • “There is an absolute public health imperative to act on climate change and on the causes of climate change. We also see that a failure to act on these issues and failure to take account of the health implications of our climate and energy decisions is also very bad development and it’s also very bad economics.” – Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, World Health Organization
  • “The health impacts of climate change are already being felt and effecting some of the most vulnerable on our planet. No one is immune or out of reach. Climate action, spearheaded by governments and supported by business, cities, investors and citizens – including health care professionals – goes hand-in-hand with delivering a better quality of life in its own right and as a key pillar of the Sustainable Development Goals.” – Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • “One challenge of the ongoing global climate crisis is to convey the urgency of our collective predicament and the need for decisive action. The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change is being launched to amass the evidence needed to hold policymakers accountable for their promises and commitments. The research community can make an important contribution to heightening political awareness and accelerating progress to a healthier, low-carbon world.” – Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet
  • “Ending the use of coal is a simple, no-regrets public health intervention. The rapid phase-out of coal fired stations is an imperative first step. Coal is the most carbon-intensive source of power generation, and is a key focus for reducing the risks of climate change.” – the U.K. Health Alliance on Climate Change
  • “Renewable energy is the ultimate 21st century technology.  It provides clean, secure, home grown electricity which keeps our air pure and our climate safe. And it is agile enough to reach remote places that fossil powered grids cannot go. There is nothing with the same power to both save the planet and tackle poverty on a global scale.” – Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid