The interaction between climate change, air pollution and health is a critical challenge for the 21st century. There is currently insufficient understanding of how increased investments to foster healthy living can protect older people from the combined impacts of air pollution and climate change and enable healthier lifestyles. Such investments might include measures to reduce exposure to climate-related health hazards, and encouraging healthier diets and physical activity.

Investment of this nature is particularly important in the Asia-Pacific region, where populations are ageing and are vulnerable to both poor air quality and the increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves caused by climate change.

This policy brief provides evidence to support policymakers in mobilising capital for a just, resilient transition to net zero, by highlighting the potential health co-benefits of addressing the risks from heat and air pollution in combination.

Key messages

  • Asia-Pacific is the world’s most rapidly ageing region and also among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts.  
  • People in older age and who have pre-existing conditions are particularly harmed by the combined impacts of heat and air pollution.
  • Climate change mitigation measures that also reduce air pollution will benefit population health. At present, there is a lack of detailed studies that explore the country-specific net benefits of such measures.
  • Improving health in later life by reducing air pollution and promoting healthier behaviours can increase resilience to climate change impacts such as extreme heat. This will improve quality of life, reduce pressure on health and social care and improve labour force health.
  • Policymakers need to be made more aware of the health and economic burdens of population ageing exacerbated by air pollution and climate change, and of the co-benefits of climate action for health and thus as a driver of sustainable, inclusive and resilient growth.
  • Japan is the only ageing society in Asia to have explicitly linked its net zero transition with the implications of population ageing, though in China, climate change adaptation has been recognised to protect older people, particularly from increasing extremes of heat.
  • Governments could integrate health benefits into macroeconomic decision-making to mobilise capital for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Targeted policies to protect older people could include reducing air pollution, expanding access to cooling, investing in early warning systems (e.g. for extreme heat), and strengthening the resilience of healthcare facilities to climate change.
  • In China, health-centred long-term policy planning can inform the development of the 15th Five-Year Plan (2026–30). Regional cooperation to enhance climate action, with leadership from China, could contribute to improving air quality and health resilience in Asia-Pacific.
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