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Climate change and health

Climate change and health

How would you explain in two minutes to President Donald Trump that climate change exists? This is the question that Professor Alistair Woodward asks his students at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand. Most chose an image, seeing it as more convincing than any explanation. A graph designed by the Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics explains the evolution of global temperatures since 1861 and shows how global warming has occurred. Specifically, it demonstrates a progressive increase of temperatures in the lower part of the atmosphere and cooling in the upper part, as a result of the greenhouse effect. The environmental health experat stated that there was no doubt that Climate Change is real.

Woodward was invited by the Catalunya Europa Foundation to parrticipate on November 22nd in the "Facing climate change" cycle of the Re-City platform, organized in collaboration with BBVA and supported by Barcelona City Council, the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona and the Department of "Territori i Sostenibilitat" of Generalitat de Catalunya. The expert answered many questions from the audience attending the conference, which was held at the Antoni Tàpies Foundation.

The conference was moderated by Xavier Rodó, ICREA researcher, head of the ISGlobal Climate and Health research program oand Re-City scientific advisor. He presented Woodward the speaker as one of the world leaders in the field of health and climate change.

Woodward argued that Climate Change is a very dangerous disruptive change because it is happening extremely fast and on a large scale - we are already clearly experiencing its effects. Some examples are the increase in coronary or respiratory diseases due to poor air quality; the increase in floods, now six times more likely than at the end of the 20th century; or diseases caused by mosquitoes that are expanding as a result of heat, as shown by the first case of autochthonous dengue detected recently in Barcelona, the sixth produced in Spain in a short period of time.

The expert stressed that if we want to face Climate Change, reducing carbon dioxide emissions will not be enough - we have to introduce changes in our lifestyles and be radical, otherwise we will not achieve  Paris Agreement objective to limit global warming to 2 ° C ", let alone the 1.5 ° C that has been recommended by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Woodward mentioned some controversial measures, such as the introduction of a tax on meat or food to curb the greenhouse gas emissions. He also proposed beter insulating houses so that heat is not lost and less is spent on heating; using bicycles instead of cars or motorbikes, and limiting private transport in the center of the cities. Woodward explained that electric cars are a good way to reduce emissions, but they are not the solution to traffic. The problem of mobility is that there are too many cars, which is why we need to improve public transport and access to electric bicycles, so that we can reduce 60% of carbon emissions. Currently air pollution is the main challenge of climate change, caused by the combustion of carbon.The combination of poor air quality with an increase in temperature produces an extremely harmful impact on health.

Alistair Woodward, also a member of the IPCC panel, affirmed that climate change is a challenge at all levels but it is possible to find a solution. However, it will require political measures and consensus to guarantee that it is. In this regard, he explained that New Zealand is drafting a law to achieve zero carbon dioxide emission before 2050,  and spoke of a newly created figure - the liquidator of environmental grievances, which will ensure that action is taken with the least possible impact on the environment.

The speaker also appealed to the role of cities as drivers of change, arguing that cities can respond in a creative way, using Climate Change as a stimulus for ttheir regeneration. Climate change can make cities safer, healthier, more sustainable and more cheerful, because people smile more when they walk through the closed areas. Woodward added that cities must establish collaborative networks and make cross-cutting environmental policies in areas such as mobility and transport, waste management, pollution and air quality, or building renovations.

The expert ended his lecture with an optimistic message and with a quote from the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, in his book "A climate of hope". He stated that must change the way we think about climate change, from down to up, from cost to benefits and from tomorrow to today. Showing that we are facing a challenge that can not be postponed and that at the same time is an opportunity to move towards a better society.