Medical Panel Urges a Low-Carbon Diet

A family of laborers in New Delhi warmed themselves by a bonfire made of waste paper.Associated Press A family of laborers in New Delhi warmed themselves by a bonfire made of waste paper.

A network of the world’s leading medical academies on Friday urged nations to adopt policies to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollutants because it would have a salutary effect not just on the planet but on human health.

The InterAcademy Medical Panel said in a report that while addressing climate change by moving to a low-carbon economy might be technically and economically difficult, it will pay substantial dividends in health improvements, particularly in poorer regions of the globe.

It said that global climate change poses large risks to human health through increased spread of disease, large-scale displacement of people, malnutrition, fast-spreading infections, pulmonary disorders and increased heat stress. The effects are expected to be greatest in the areas of the world that have contributed the least to carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and are most vulnerable to sea-level rise, malnutrition and crop destruction.

The panel said that while mitigating climate change would be costly, some of those expenses might be offset by lower spending on health care. As an example, the report said that replacing inefficient cookstoves or open fires for cooking and heating would substantially reduce emissions of soot and other health-damaging pollutants. Introducing 150 million low-emission cookstoves in India would prevent as many as two million premature deaths from lung disease and infections in women and children. 

The report said that switching to mass transit, bicycles or walking in major cities would reduce pollution and improve cardiovascular health. It also suggested that reducing meat consumption would improve human diets and cut down on climate-altering methane emissions from cattle.

The report, signed by health academies from 40 countries, including the United States, was timed to ignite discussion as negotiators gather in Cancún, Mexico, for the annual United Nations climate change conference.

“The endorsement of this statement by academies from so many different countries makes an important contribution to the global discussion about how best to tackle climate change,” said Detlev Ganten of Germany, chairman of the working group that prepared Friday’s paper. “A strong case can be made that the public health benefits of cutting greenhouse gas emissions need to be more prominent in international negotiations and domestic policymaking.”

By JOHN M. BRODER/NYT

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