The climate crisis is an opportunity to improve our health, welfare and economy, according to top Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) global health scientist Professor Sebastien Chastin.

The Professor of Health Behaviour Dynamics, who has put GCU on the world map for influencing global health policy and research excellenceis lead author of a policy briefing highlighting the co-benefits of climate action to be presented to COP26 delegates during the two-week summit in Glasgow.

Professor Chastin produced the COP26 Universities Network ‘Co-benefits of climate change mitigation and adaptation actions’ briefing with scientists from the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen, Cambridge and Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

He has also recorded a Climate Papers podcast with co-author Professor of Climate Change Policy at the University of Cambridge Laura Diaz-Anadon about the co-benefits of climate action, which will shape and inform discussions at COP26.

Professor Chastin explained: “There is no doubt we have to take drastic and urgent action because climate change is having a huge impact on our daily lives and our communities, but we should view this as an opportunity to better our lives in many ways.

“What we mean by co-benefits is that if we plan carefully, we can derive some real benefits for our welfare, health and economy from climate mitigation and adaptation action on policy.

“This idea of co-benefits is tremendous because it is a really positive slant on a generally frightening and negative issue affecting us all. Focusing on the co-benefits will help us galvanise more will for action and get more critical buy-in for climate action from more key players.

“When people suddenly realise climate actions can have a positive impact on our health, then the health system will start to work towards a better climate, for example.

“One of the simplest examples is that we have to reduce carbon emissions, that’s clear. Emissions have a huge impact on chronic respiratory disease and we have seen an expediential rise in cases.

“I’m frightened for my own children who got asthma at an early age. If we reduce emissions, we reduce the risk to ourselves, our children and our children’s children of having chronic respiratory problems that are one of the leading causes of death on the planet.

“Reducing carbon emissions means that we also force people to use less cars and be more active, which will have an impact on our cardiovascular health. These are all added benefits we can get from climate actions. This also means transforming the healthcare system to work as a preventative rather than a curative model.

“Another example would be that some people with mental-health issues are given drugs and these drugs have an impact on the climate. They cost carbon to produce and to deliver to patients, and, in turn, this pollutes our water systems.

“Instead, we change to a society which is less stressed and does more physical activity, therefore, we are going to reduce the prevalence of mental-health issues, and, at the same time, reduce the amount of drugs we produce and the carbon emissions produced by our healthcare system.

“We have good models in the world for social prescribing where we ask people to go and be closer to nature for their mental health. We have known for a long time that prevention is better than cure. The climate crisis is a time to enact this.”

Other experts involved in the briefing paper were Dr Neil Jennings, Grantham Institute at Imperial College London; Professor Jaime Toney, University of Glasgow; and Professor Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen.

The COP26 Universities Network is a group of 80+ UK universities working together to help make the upcoming COP26 a success. It has published a number of policy briefings and podcast series.