Health and Climate Change

The Debate

After the formal presentations, the speakers joined a panel to answer questions from the audience on subjects such as: exercise; lifestyle; resilience; education on health; driving forward the net zero agenda; and trade-offs.

Is it wise to encourage cycling when the environment gets very hot? In many countries that are hotter than the UK, many more people cycle than here. The main problem lies in stimulating behavioural change. Indeed, there is a more general need to change to a more Mediterranean lifestyle where physical activities are carried out at times of the day when it is cool enough. The typical sedentary lifestyle of people in the UK can also lead to severe burdens on the health service.

People are remarkably resilient, provided they feel in control of their lives. There is considerable research literature on the effects of emergencies on mental health, and this varies significantly by type of emergency and type of person. Rescue services have systems in place to deal with mental health issues among rescuers. Evidence has shown that there are net benefits to mental health from warning people of dangers and helping them prepare.

Are medical practitioners best-placed to explain the health benefits of net zero to patients? While this may be appropriate in some circumstances, others have a role too and in particular science teachers. The British Association for Sustainability and Sport has written a number of reports on the implications of climate change on sports as a way to get people to focus on the issue.

Short-term problem such as the energy crisis, although more immediate, can be used to drive forward net zero goals as well. Ultimately, politicians follow the cares of the general population so somehow people need to be made more aware of the personal implications of the issue.

The twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss are linked. However, some of the measures to tackle one can also address the other, such as reforestation.

Real efforts are being made by the health service to decarbonise and research can help it to get there faster. Straightforward actions can have immediate effect but, at some point, there will be tough choices to make, real trade-offs. Winning public acceptance for those tough choices will help maintain the political will of world leaders, who respond to public concerns.


A healthy future: tackling climate change mitigation and human health together. Academy of Medical Sciences and Royal Society 

Climate Change and Health. World Health Organisation Factsheet

Effects of net zero policies and climate change on air quality. Royal Society report

The Climate Emergency: Research Gaps and Policy Priorities. The Physiological Society

Physiology and Climate Change. The Physiological Society