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Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 11:15 GMT
Tackling climate 'helps health now'
Using our cars less will benefit people now
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby in The Hague

The World Health Organisation says combating climate change will improve the health of people alive today.

It says countries attending the UN climate conference here need to recognise the benefits for this generation, as well as for our descendants.

Taking measures now is a win-win strategy

Dr Roberto Bertollini
The WHO's regional office for Europe
The WHO says steps to limit greenhouse gases will mean cleaner air. And reduced reliance on road transport will mean more people taking life-saving exercise.

Dr Roberto Bertollini, of the WHO's regional office for Europe, said it was not simply a question of avoiding the future health risks of a warmer world, such as violent weather and diseases expanding their range.

"It is now clear that taking strong pre-emptive measures that directly reduce greenhouse gases will also result in other immediate and important health benefits for us all, for example through cleaner air", he said.

Change transport policies

"Taking measures now is a win-win strategy". Dr Bertollini told BBC News Online: "Suppose we move to cars running on hydrogen. They'll emit water vapour. But that's still a greenhouse gas. So we shall have to rethink our entire transportation patterns in any case.

"We need to be using our cars far less for short journeys, and re-ordering city life. What we need to do to confront climate change will not only help future generations. It will mean real advances for us, too."

The author of a Swiss study on climate change and health, Dr Nino Kunzli of the Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine in Basle, said the greatest health benefits would come from policies covering technology, urban planning, traffic speed and safety, and the promotion of walking, cycling and public transport.

Dr Kunzli was joint author of a recent European study which found that air pollution caused 6% of all deaths. The WHO says it is estimated that, globally, policies to tackle climate change could prevent about eight million deaths which would otherwise occur between 2000 and 2020.

Take more exercise

It says transport is now the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, producing about 26% of the European Union's total. CO2 is the most significant human-produced gas thought to be accelerating climate change.

Emissions of CO2 from transport rose by 30% from 1985 to 1996 in the EU, and the use of cars is projected to increase by 30% between now and 2010.

Dr Carlos Dora works for WHO's European Centre for Environment and Health. He said: "If we could cycle and walk more, we would reduce greenhouse gases and improve our health and longevity through reduced risks of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

"Studies show that walking to work halves our chances of heart disease."

The WHO says the external costs of transport - those borne by people other than those who cause them - are about 658bn euros, nearly 10% of western Europe's gross domestic product.

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See also:

11 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
'Massive' pollution cuts needed
28 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Global warming 'worse than feared'
07 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
The dangers of climate change
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