Net zero policies could provide 2m additional years of life

The health benefits of going green have been made clear by new modelling which found net zero policies could substantially reduce mortality by 2050.  

In fact, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) study found that if all policies were implemented it could result in at least two million additional years of life across England and Wales.  

Researchers measured the health benefits of each net zero policy, focusing on reductions in mortality, and found that home insulation provided the greatest benefit, accounting for 836,000 of the two million years.  

Net zero policies could also result in less people living with health conditions, as they could reduce exposure to air pollution and encourage healthy lifestyles.  

clear hour glass beside pink flowers

Lead author Dr James Milner of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said: ‘Our modelling confirms that there are significant health benefits to implementing net zero policies. Not only are these policies essential for mitigating climate change, they also make us healthier. If we move faster in adopting more environmentally friendly diets and active ways of travelling, the health benefits will be even greater. 

‘The central role played by retrofitting homes with insulation in delivering these health benefits is particularly striking. Housing in England and Wales is poorly insulated compared to other countries, so actions taken towards improving home energy efficiency prove particularly beneficial to reducing carbon emissions and improving health. The energy and cost-of-living crises this winter have provided a long list of reasons for the UK to adopt an ambitious insulation policy; our study adds better health to that list.’ 

The UK has some of the coldest homes in Europe, losing heat up to three times faster than its neighbours. Additionally, just half of homes meet insulation standards set in the 1970’s.  

The study focused on six net zero policies across energy, transport, housing and food, modelling how each affected health under two different scenarios. These were a balanced pathway where emissions were reduced by 60% by 2035 and a widespread engagement pathway where diet and travel behaviours changed more rapidly.  

Under a balanced pathway, retrofitting homes provided the biggest health benefit, followed by a switch to renewable energy and a reduction in red meat consumption, resulting in 657,000 and 412,000 extra years of life respectively.  

Health benefits were even greater under the widespread engagement pathway which generated nearly two and a half million life-years gained by 2050.  

Dr Alice Bell, Head of Climate and Health Policy at Wellcome, said: ‘This study powerfully illustrates how following the UK Climate Change Committee’s recommendations will bring us years of extra healthy life, highlighting the strong link between the climate and our health. The case for rapid and radical moves to net zero has never been more compelling. 

‘Governments everywhere should include the health benefits and risks when they weigh up decisions about climate, both when it comes to working out how to stop more warming, or protecting us from the extra heat we’re already having to battle.’ 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao


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