Home insulation could significantly increase lifespans in England and Wales by 2050

A new study into net zero policies has discovered that implementing home insulation to make houses more energy efficient in England and Wales could drastically reduce mortality by 2050.

The study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, analysed how implementing net zero policies across England and Wales could result in at least two million additional years lived across the population by 2050.

Of these policies, home insulation accounted for 836,000 of the additional years lived, as long as the retrofitted homes experienced ventilation measures. Although the modelling study analysed health benefits by looking exclusively at reductions in mortality, evidence from other research suggests that net zero policies may result in people developing fewer health conditions.

Dr James Milner, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “Our modelling confirms that there are significant health benefits to implementing net zero policies. Not only are these policies essential for mitigating climate change, but they also make us healthier. If we move faster in adopting more environmentally friendly diets and active ways of travelling, the health benefits will be even greater.”

How is the UK championing net zero policies?

The Paris Agreement outlines that the UK is legally bound to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Additionally, the UK Climate Change Committee has formulated carbon-cutting climate policies across six sectors to map how it will achieve net zero ambitions.

The majority of the policies target harmful environmental exposures, such as air pollution, and healthy habits like diet and exercise. However, this is the first research to model how they will impact health comprehensively.


The benefits of six policies were analysed

The study investigated six net zero policies across four sectors – electricity supply, transport, housing, and food. Modelling was utilised to estimate how they affect health, such as how much they reduce air pollution, make diets healthier, and increase exercise.

The research also analysed two scenarios: a balanced pathway where emissions were reduced by 60% by 2035 and a widespread engagement pathway where consumer behaviour changed more rapidly towards diet and travel choices.

The researchers calculated mortality reductions by identifying the additional years lived across the whole population.

Home insulation had the greatest impact on human health

Under a balanced pathway, advancing home insulation resulted in 836,000 life-years gained by 2050 – the most considerable benefit to human health. Switching to renewable energy sources to power homes and mitigating red meat consumption were the next most impactful, resulting in 657,000 and 412,000 life-years gained, respectively.

Dr Milner commented: “The central role played by retrofitting homes with home insulation in delivering these health benefits is particularly striking. Housing in England and Wales is poorly insulated compared to other countries, so actions taken towards improving home energy efficiency prove particularly beneficial to reducing carbon emissions and improving health. The energy and cost-of-living crises this winter have provided a long list of reasons for the UK to adopt an ambitious home insulation policy; our study adds better health to that list.”

© shutterstock/ronstik

Choosing to walk or cycle instead of using a car resulted in 125,000 life-years gained, whereas transitioning to renewable energy for electricity generation yielded 46,000 life-years gained. Moreover, switching to renewable energy for transport led to 30,000 life-years gained.

Overall, the balanced pathway suggested two million additional years lived across the population of England and Wales by 2050. In contrast, the health benefits were greater under the widespread engagement pathway – nearly two and a half million additional years by 2050.

The impacts of the policies may be underestimated

The researchers explained that they were unable to model all the potential health benefits, such as reductions in agricultural air pollution and nitrogen dioxide pollution from transport, meaning the benefits of net zero policies could be even greater.

They also could not quantify the benefits of other countries implementing similar initiatives and their impacts on people in England and Wales, which would potentially decrease air pollution from travelling from continental Europe. Nevertheless, the road ahead is clear. With energy prices soaring and sources dwindling, home insulation represents the most effective method to reduce fuel poverty and extend life across England and Wales.

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