UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Climate Crisis: Emergency Actions to Protect Human Health

The 2013 UCL-Tsinghua Lancet Commission represents an ambitious new initiative aimed at bringing together senior international climate scientists, economists, energy experts, and health professionals.

16 January 2017

The Comission offers an opportunity to accelerate mitigation and adaptation policy to respond to the health effects of climate change.

"Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century ... the impacts will be felt all around the world — and not just in some distant future but in our lifetimes and those of our children."  Lancet Commission 2009

The 2013 UCL-Lancet Commission builds on the success and scientific underpinnings of the 2009 Commission, it will be solution focused, and will provide a policy road map to lever influence on the international community. 

The report will conduct a review of the climate science and its subsequent impacts on human health since 2009, before presenting policy response options around four central themes: community resilience and adaptation in low-income countries; energy and technical solutions; financing climate change policies; and political mechanisms. 

The UCL Energy Institute is primarily involved in writing the section on energy and technical solutions. UCL ISR is primarily involved in writing the section on financing climate change policies.

Overview of each working group:

  1. WG1 will set the stage by laying out the latest evidence in climate science and the impacts these global environmental changes are having on human wellbeing. The group will attempt to employ innovative methods to demonstrate how global patterns of vulnerability shift with environmental and demographic changes;
  2. In light of the scientific update above, section 2 will examine the most effective solutions to improve resilience in the most vulnerable communities. One area of particular interest being explored is with regards to identifying the limits to adaptation;
  3. Experts in energy and climate change mitigation will explore the emergency technical solutions available, prioritising them according to their cost-effectiveness, time to implementation, and feasibility. In particular, Commissioners in WG3 will explore the ‘epidemiology of energy policy’, looking at what happens when large-scale policy changes are implemented in practice.
  4. The fourth component of the report will discuss a broad range of alternatives to financing the defined technical solutions, looking at a broad range of responses, including international trade, taxation (regressive and progressive), capital and bond markets, and investment incentives and penalties.
  5. The final section will bring together the above policy options, providing insight in to the political mechanisms necessary to trigger a cascade of technical and financial action.

The Commission will act as an expert review of the existing literature, aiming to build on current evidence and integrate the conclusions from each working group. In particular these policy alternatives will be considered with the stated intention of improving human health and well-being.

The Lancet Commission will ultimately aim to be policy relevant, taking an academic ‘honest broker’ approach where experts in areas relating to climate change use their knowledge to integrate scientific knowledge more cohesively with policy. 

Image: Lancet Commission project team 2014

The team

The Commission consists of collaboration between University College London, Tsinghua University, Exeter University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre involving more than 60 academics and experts from around the world. The Commission will also draw heavily on international expertise as appropriate, aiming to be truly globally representative in its makeup. 

Within UCL, the Commission is working across the Institute of Global Health, UCL Energy Institute, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, Department of Geography, and the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy.

ISR staff working on the project:

Prof Paul Ekins

Prof Michael Grubb

Dr Paolo Agnolucci

Paul Drummond


The Commission will deliver its final report in December 2014, to be published in the Lancet in February 2015.The report will conduct a review of the climate science and its subsequent impacts on human health since 2009.

During Climate Week 2014 (3-9 March), the Lancet Commission project team joined UCL staff and students in blogging daily through the week.


Climate Crisis: Emergency Actions to Protect Human Health (blog)
Nick Watts, Head of Project, UCL-Lancet Commission

Climate change, extreme events and human health
Professor Georgina Mace, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER), UCL

Climate, resilience and adaptation
Victor Galaz; Associate Professor, Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University) Box. Commissioners of WG2 of the Lancet Commission 

Climate Change and Water – A Link to Engender Action?
Paul Drummond, UCL ISR Researcher

Understanding the impact of climate change mitigation on health
Ian Hamilton, Lecturer and Senior Research Associate in Energy Epidemiology, UCL-Energy

“Half the work, twice the effect” – from a Chinese proverb to the cost-effective responses to the climate crisis
Wenjia Cai, Assistant Professor, Tsinghua University 


The special issue of the Lancet is planned to be timed and structured to inform the UNFCCC COP21, where a global, legally binding treaty will be agreed upon and made operational by 2020. The timescale of the proposed policies will be dictated by climate science, and the risks climate change poses for human health.