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Climate change has been described as one of the greatest challenges of our time, one which requires an international approach to contain. The first international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the Kyoto Protocol, came into effect in 1997. Its impact was restricted due to the omission of emerging economies such as China. However, it has been succeeded by the Paris Agreement, the first truly global agreement—ratified by 170 parties, including China—to reduce emissions.

At present climate change policy in the UK is largely driven by EU law. The EU also represents the UK and other member states in the negotiation and implementation of international agreements relating to the environment, such as the Paris Agreement. The UK’s measures to tackle climate change are embedded in national legislation through the Climate Change Act 2008. The 2008 Act stands irrespective of the UK’s membership of the EU and as such its main targets and overall approach will remain in a post-Brexit UK.

The Climate Change Act 2008 provided a legally binding framework to cut UK GHG emissions and various other measures to support implementation. It includes a requirement for a climate change risk assessment to be carried out. The latest risk assessment, published in 2017, noted a number of potential risks that have the potential to affect public health in the UK, including heatwaves, flooding and droughts.

The World Health Organisation  notes that the health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative due to how it impacts basic human needs: clean air; safe drinking water, and access to food and shelter. Impacts of climate change such as temperature-related illness, extreme weather events and disease are all predicted to increase. These are likely to disproportionally impact less developed nations and the most vulnerable in society. However, the UK will not be immune to these effects and, it is argued, climate change policy must reflect this. The UK Government has identified poor air quality as the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK. Exposure to air pollutants has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and changes linked to dementia.

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