Global | Lancet Countdown 2017 Report Shows Urgency of Healthy Energy Transition

“From 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health”

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change (*) released this week its 2017 report titled, “From 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health.” The report builds upon the influential 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, which emphasized that the response to climate change could be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”

The Lancet Countdown’s 2017 report tracks 40 indicators across five areas, arriving at three key conclusions:

  1. The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible – affecting the health of populations around the world, today.
  2. The delayed response to climate change over the past 25 years has jeopardized human life and livelihoods.
  3. Although progress has been historically slow, the past 5 years have seen an accelerated response, and in 2017, momentum is building across a number of sectors; the direction of travel is set, with clear and unprecedented opportunities for public health.

The authors are clear the necessary response to climate change still provides an opportunity to realize substantial gains in public health. The potential benefits and opportunities are staggering, including cleaning-up the air of polluted cities, delivering more nutritious diets, ensuring energy, food and water security, and alleviating poverty, alongside social and economic inequalities.

The remainder of this article is a compilation of excerpts from the 2017 Lancet Countdown report that are most relevant to the Healthy Energy Initiative’s mobilization of the health sector to engage in science-based advocacy for a move away from fossil fuel-based power generation—particularly coal—and toward clean, renewable, healthy energy options.


This video shows an overview of the impacts of climate change on health, why health professionals seek to address inaction, and what gains can be made through pro-activity.
It is a great introduction to the Lancet Countdown to 2030 for those unfamiliar with the project, and a great resource for anyone wishing to introduce the topic to friends, family, colleagues and students!
All credit and ownership: The Lancet Countdown to 2030.

Energy and Health

The Lancet Countdown tracks several indicators related to the transition to healthy energy, particularly the health co-benefits of climate change mitigation including progress towards the Paris Agreement. The following are some key findings in this area from the 2017 report:

Coal phase-out (Indicator 3.2):

The primary means of reducing carbon intensity of the energy system within necessary timescales will be the phase-out of coal. graphic_4

  • Worldwide, total power capacity of pre-construction coal (commitments for new coal power plants) has halved from 2016 to 2017 alone.
  • Coal use in China has plateaued and reduced since 2013, in large part because the health effects of air pollution have been recognized.
  • The plateauing coal use in China has not been observed in other parts of Asia, and the rapidly emerging economies of Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines see strong growth from coal.
  • India has also seen substantial growth in coal use, with the share of coal in the total primary energy supply increasing from 31% in 1990 to 46% in 2015.
  • Meeting the International Energy Agency’s 2°C pathway and the Paris Agreement requires that no new coal-fired plants be built (beyond those with construction already underway), with a complete phase-out of unabated plants (not fitted with carbon capture and storage) by 2040. Crucially, such a transition might have started, with the amount of coal power capacity in preconstruction planning at 570 gigawatts in January, 2017, compared with 1090 gigawatts in January, 2016. A range of reasons for this large reduction include decreasing planned capacity expansion, a desire to tackle air pollution, and active efforts to expand renewable investment.

Interactive infographic from the Lancet

Zero-carbon emission electricity (indicator 3.3):

As coal is phased out of the energy system, particularly from electricity production, the rapid scale up of zero- carbon energy production and use will be crucial.

  • Renewable electricity as a share of total generation has increased worldwide by more than 20% from 1990 to 2013.
  • In 2015, renewable energy capacity added exceeded that of new fossil fuel capacity. Overall, there is now more added renewable generation capacity installed worldwide (almost 2000 gigawatts) than coal. About 80% of this newly installed capacity is in China.
  • Where renewables displace fossil fuels (coal in particular), it represents the beginning of reductions in morbidity and mortality from air pollution, and a potentially remarkable success for global health.

Access to clean energy (indicator 3.4):

Use of clean energy for heating, cooling, cooking, and lighting is important for improving health and wellbeing, economic productivity, and reducing the risk of harm from living in energy poverty.

  • In 2016, 1.2 billion people still did not have access to electricity, and 2.7 billion people were relying on the burning of unsafe and unsustainable solid fuels.
  • However, the installed costs of renewable energy continue to decrease, and solar photovoltaic electricity generation is now cheaper than conventional fossil fuels in an ever-growing number of countries.

Exposure to ambient air pollution (indicator 3.5):

Air pollutants directly harmful to health are emitted by combustion processes that also contribute to emissions of greenhouse gas. As such, well designed actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will improve ambient air quality and have associated benefits for human wellbeing.

  • PM2.5 concentrations in most cities are well above the WHO’s annual guideline of 10 µg/m³, with particularly high concentrations in cities in central, south, and east Asiagraphic_2
  • 87% of cities globally are in breach of WHO air pollution guidelines, meaning billions of people worldwide are exposed to unsafe levels of atmospheric particulate matter (PM2.5). This is significantly higher than previously thought.
  • In South East Asia, 1.9 million people died prematurely as a result of ambient air pollution in 2015.
  • The energy sector (both production and use) is the single largest source of man-made air pollution emissions, producing 85% of particulate matter and almost all of the sulpher dioxide (SO2) and nitric oxide (NOx) emitted worldwide.
  • Coal power is responsible for three-quarters of the energy sector’s SO2 emissions, 70% of NOx emissions, and more than 90% of PM2.5 emissions. However, in the past decade, these emissions have largely decoupled from increases in coal-fired generation in several geographies because emission standards have been introduced for coal power plants.

Interactive infographic from the Lancet

Finance and economics:

The indicators on finance and economics related to the low-carbon transition do not have an explicit link to human health, and yet increasing investment in renewable energy and decreasing investment in coal capacity, for instance, are essential in displacing fossil fuels and reducing their two principal externalities: the social cost of climate change and the health costs from air pollution.

  • Indicator 4.1: Proportional investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency increased in 2016, and fossil fuels ceased to account for the majority of annual investments in the global energy system.
  • Indicator 4.2: Although investment in coal capacity has increased since 2006, in 2016 this trend turned and declined substantially.
  • Indicator 4.3: The global value of funds committing to divestment in 2016 was $1.24 trillion, of which health Institutions represent $2.4 billion; this represents a cumulative sum of $5.45 trillion (with health accounting for $887 billion).
  • Indicator 4.5: In 2016, global employment in renewable energy reached 9.8 million, with employment in fossil fuel extraction trending down, to 8.6 million.
  • Indicator 4.6: In 2015, fossil fuel consumption subsidies followed a trend seen since 2012, decreasing markedly to $327 billion, principally as a result of declining global oil prices.

The Health Sector’s Public and Political Engagement

“The voice of the health profession is essential in driving forward progress on climate change and realizing the health benefits of this response.” – The 2017 Report of the Lancet Countdown

The report argues that “the health profession not only has the ability but the responsibility to act as public health advocates by communicating the threats and opportunities to the public and policy makers and ensuring climate change is understood as being central to human well-being.”

  • Attention to health and climate change is growing in the media and in academic reports, with global newspaper coverage of the issue increasing 78% and the number of scientific reports more than tripling since 2007 (Indicator 5.1.1 and 5.2). However, despite these positive examples, the 2017 indicators make it clear that further progress is urgently needed.


Learn more

Visit the Lancet Countdown website to learn more about the indicators and findings, download policy briefings, and find multimedia communication resources.

Visit The Lancet’s website to download the full report in English (with Executive Summary translations available in French, Mandarin, and Spanish), and to explore interactive infographics.

(*) About the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change

The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change is an international research collaboration, providing a global overview of the relationship between public health and climate change. Publishing its findings in The Lancet medical journal each year, the initiative aims to help inform an accelerated response to climate change.

Leading academics and technical experts from across 24 partner institutions around the globe have contributed analysis included in the 2017 report. Example partner organizations include the World Bank, World Health Organization, University College London, and Tsinghua University among others.

For more information, visit:

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