“The best thing for policy makers would be to include health in the cost-benefit calculation of climate action” Interview with Prof Rainer Sauerborn

Why do you think health is a good argument in the climate change negotiations?

If you want to convince people, you need to bring forth something positive. They are keener to be inspired by something posi- tive like the protection of their health and their children`s health. The effects on health of climate change will not appear in full force in my lifetime. My motivation do to something about climate change, as for a lot of people, is protecting our kids. By the way, the elderly generally feel an ingrained sense of care and responsibility for the generations after them, so it comes as no surprise that they in particular have been found to be sensitive to stabilize our climate.

The second good news from health is: many actions and policies aimed to reduce greenhouse gases are also good for your health. So these health co-benefits should be factored in the balance sheet of climate policies being scrutinized at the COP21, on the positive side of the balance! Andy Haines, a world expert on such co-benefits gives a brilliant video talk on how large and how important health co-benefits are for policy making and for the rest of us in our daily lives.

In rich countries, half of the carbon print is linked with the household behaviors. If we start pointing fingers toward factories and big companies, we should also really look at ourselves and our bad habits. Our emission reduction as citizens, through walking instead of driving, insulating our homes, flying less for vacation, eating less red meat, consuming products with min- imal carbon footprints adds up to a huge reduction in global emission. At the same time developing countries with populations in poverty which will become wealthier in the near future should not copy our current unsustainable lifestyles.

What should policymakers retain from your MOOC?
The best thing would be for them to include health in the cost-benefit calculation of cli- mate action. Sure investing in low carbon energy systems is costly, but a large portion of these costs are offset by positive health effects and a saving in health care costs.

Why are there not more climate changes policies, if so many health benefits can be expected?
There are so much divergent interests at stake; it is like a poker game, everyone waits for the other to move first. Climate is a glo- bal public good, but there is no institution to handle this question at a global level. There are so many conflicting interests between the rich and poor countries, the fuel produ- cers, the island states, etc. It is a challenge to build bridges and cross our differences.

For the first time we have a really global problem: geographically, socially and tem- porally, from my ancestors to my great grandchildren. This makes it so difficult.


What is your prognosis for the COP21?

Usually I am optimistic. I sense the chances of success in favour of an effective deal. That deal should include 3 components: 1) bind- ing commitments for each country to re- duce their emissions in the order of 50% by 2050. 2) Transparent monitoring and veri- fication of this and sanctions for countries which do not comply with their goals. 3) Fair and substantive financial help to poorer countries to take sometimes costly meas- ures to decarbonize their economy and agri- culture. There are some promising signs. The majority of countries, including China, the US and Europe have made specific car- bon reduction pledges, which, added up, put the world on a 2.7°C course. While this is better than the 4°C warming under the no action scenario – also known as “business as usual”, the world leaders absolutely need to shave off another 0.7°C warming worth of emissions to reach the 2°C goal that most scientists consider the maximum warming to avert large and uncontrollable effects on all sectors and living creatures, including us and our kids and grandchildren.

Professor Sauerborn spent 9 months working with the CVV in the role of visiting professor of the Sanofi Chair.
The Interview was conducted by Corinne Kowalski, CVV.

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