UCL News


Over-dependence on fossil fuels risks the health of current and future generations

26 October 2022

Fossil fuels continue to be prioritised over clean energy solutions by governments and companies to the detriment of health, finds the latest Lancet Countdown report led by UCL researchers.

fossil fuels

The 2022 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, published today, has found that ongoing crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, conflict in Ukraine, and a global energy and cost of living crisis, have caused countries to become over reliant on fossil fuels – compounding climate change and its effect on health.

The vast majority of countries analysed still collectively allocate hundreds of billions of US dollars to subsidising fossil fuels – often amounting to sums comparable, or even greater than, the amount set aside in their total health budgets.

Researchers believe that a renewed dependence on fossil fuels could increase the risk of food insecurity, infectious disease transmission, heat-related disease – such as heat stroke and poor mental health. It could also lead to fatally warmer temperatures for the future.

The report found that global heat-related deaths have already increased by two thirds over the last two decades. Temperature records were also broken around the world in 2022, including in the UK, where 40°C was recorded in July, as well as parts of Europe, Pakistan and China.

Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown, Dr Marina Romanello (UCL Institute for Global Health), said: “Our report this year reveals we are at a critical juncture. We see how climate change is driving severe health impacts all around the world, while the persistent global fossil fuel dependence compounds these health harms amidst multiple global crises, keeping households vulnerable to volatile fossil fuel markets, exposed to energy poverty, and dangerous levels of air pollution.”

Nevertheless, researchers believe that immediate changes may be able to alleviate the situation. Consequently, countries are being encouraged to choose a health-centred response to crises to prevent further increases in climate change-related death and disease, and deliver paid health benefits through improved energy access and security, cleaner air, healthier diets and lifestyles, and more liveable cities.

Dr Romanello said: “Despite the challenges, there is clear evidence that immediate action could still save the lives of millions, with a rapid shift to clean energy and energy efficiency.

“Accelerated climate action would deliver cascading benefits, with more resilient health, food, and energy systems.

“With the world in turmoil, governments and companies have the opportunity to put health at the centre of an aligned response to these concurrent crises, and deliver a healthy, safe future for all.”

The report represents the work of 99 experts from 51 institutions, including the World Health Orangisation (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

It is published ahead of the 27th UN Conference of the Parties (COP27) and seven years after the Paris Agreement, when the world pledged to limit global warming to 2°C.

For the past seven years, the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change has monitored and reported more than 40 global indicators that measure the impact of our changing climate on health.

The latest report also features new and improved metrics that monitor the impact of extreme temperature on food insecurity, household air pollution, and the alignment of the fossil fuel industry with a healthy future.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Energy companies rapidly shifting to clean fuels helping countries promptly reach net zero gas emissions and prevent deaths from exposure to fossil fuel-derived air pollution.
  • Accelerating a transition to more balanced and plant-based diets, which would reduce 55% of agricultural sector emissions from red meat and milk production, prevent up to 11.5 million diet-related deaths annually and reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases.
  • Urban redesign with increased greenspace that reduces urban heat, improves air quality and benefits physical and mental health.

Co-chair of the Lancet Countdown, Professor Anthony Costello (UCL Institute for Global Health), said: “The world is at a critical juncture. Our global commitment to cut fossil fuels is way off-track, and now fossil fuel-focussed responses to the energy crises we face could reverse the progress made so far.

“We must change, otherwise our children face a future of accelerated climate change, threatening their very survival.

“A health-centred response to the current crises would still provide the opportunity to deliver a low-carbon, resilient, healthy future, where people all over the world can not only survive but thrive. There is still time to realise this future if we act now.”



Media contact 

Poppy Danby 

E: p.danby [at] ucl.ac.uk