Climate change and people’s health

Climate change affects people’s health, globally and in Merton. For example, heatwaves can increase mortality, and floods can cause major disruption and lead to long lasting mental health issues. It is now recognised that many young people feel scared about the future effects of climate change – which is likely affecting their emotional wellbeing today.

Addressing climate change presents a great opportunity for improving health and tackling key health issues like diabetes, heart disease and mental health through strong climate action – including more physical activity, healthy diets, warmer homes and a greener environment. Nationally, the NHS has also committed to becoming a net zero organisation – with work underway across the country for example with NHS suppliers and around the medicines that are used to achieve this target.

This article sets out some examples of work being undertaken by the Council and partners to reduce the impact of climate change, and ideas that residents or professionals can take to address climate change and improve health.

What is happening in Merton?

Merton Council declared a climate emergency in 2019, followed by the launch of a climate action plan with activity across the council. There are a number of projects underway that can help to address the health impacts of climate change:

  • Since 2010 we’ve installed low-energy LED lighting in our buildings and invested £2 million in LED street lights
  • We’ve introduced more School Streets – to lower pollution outside schools – that any other London borough
  • We’ve rolled out over 200 electric vehicle charging points, 20 cycle hangars, 10 parklets and 11 Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems
  • We’re working with several local GP practices to help them improve their sustainability – the Green and Healthy Practices project, which is being run through Merton Chamber of Commerce
  • We are excited to be piloting an innovative behavioural intervention to reduce idling around level crossings
  • We were awarded the world’s first Low Emission Zone for Construction on behalf of London boroughs and The Mayor of London
  • We are installing 68 air quality sensors around the borough to tackle toxic air pollution and make Merton a net-zero borough by 2050

There is still much more to do, but taking measures to address climate change and air quality will continue to be a priority for Merton Council and its partners across the borough.

How you can save the environment and improve your health

For members of the public:

  • A few simple tips on reducing household heat loss and buying energy efficient products can help you take the first step to reducing the negative health impacts of cold housing and carbon emissions produced whilst heating your home. Small measures include switching to energy efficient light bulbs, installing radiator reflector panels, and draught-proofing measures like hanging thick curtains and insulating doors.
  • Active travelling, such as walking or cycling, can be a great way to increase your physical activity levels, get fitter, boost your mental health and save on carbon emissions. There are lots of cycling and walking routes around Merton and London. Merton Council also offers free adult cycle training at beginner, improver and commuter levels to help build confidence.
  • We’re all aware that eating a balanced diet and getting your 5 fruit and vegetables a day is important to help. Eating more fruit and vegetables and reducing our meat consumption can be beneficial for our health and for the environment. More about how to eat sustainably is available in the National Food Strategy and from the European Food Information Council.
  • Getting out and about in nature can be great for mental health. As well as lots of public parks in Merton, you can get involved in community gardening which helps volunteers strengthen community networks and learn more about food systems. You can find out more about some of Merton’s community gardens through Sustainable Merton.
  • If you use an inhaler, speak to your GP – as you may be able to use one which is more environmentally friendly.
  • You can see a recent guide for 10 steps you can take

For health professionals, providers and commissioners:

  • Read the NHS Net Zero plan and consider what actions you might take within your service – this might include looking at the use of specific medicines, providing care differently or reducing the use of plastics.
  • Consider the opportunities for more sustainable buildings, food catering and travel to hospital

Councillor Rebecca Lanning, Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health, said: “Climate change is a public health emergency, but thankfully addressing climate change and air pollution offer a great opportunity for improving the health of our residents. We are calling on everyone, from our residents to our healthcare professionals to continue to play their part in tackling climate change to secure the health of people now and for future generations.”

Dagmar Zeuner, Merton’s Director of Public Health, said: “A healthy planet makes for healthy people. We need to act now and there are many things we all can do to improve our health that also tackle climate change. Let us all be part of the solution.”