A billion-dollar walk in the park: health benefits of nature explored in Swiss Re report

7 October 2021 — Daniela GHETU
A billion-dollar walk in the park: health benefits of nature explored in Swiss Re report
As the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-15) approaches, Swiss Re Institute addressed in its 'Biodiversity and the Benefits for Human Health' publication just how valuable time spent in nature can be for physical and mental well-being and, in turn, for reducing health related expenses.

The correlation is significant: Assuming that spending time in green spaces or woodlands were to reduce the impact of mental health issues by just 1% by 2030, global annual economic savings would be up to USD 60 billion, according to Swiss Re. For cardiovascular diseases in turn, the same scenario would result in a global cost saving of USD 10 billion annually.

"By 2050, it is anticipated that more than two thirds of the world's population will be living in urban areas. Already today, many people have limited access to green spaces and are experiencing the harmful effects of air and noise pollution in urban and suburban areas. As this report shows, increasing biodiversity by creating more parks and planting more trees clearly benefits everyone's health. For the re/insurance industry, it will become important to standardise how we measure the benefits of time spent in nature to better explain the positive effects on health and thereby develop related insurance solutions," Oliver Schelske, Swiss Re Institute Natural Assets & ESG Research Lead said.

Key findings of the report:

  • The report focuses on mental health and cardiovascular diseases as well as the impact of exposure to air pollution, heat and noise. It uses healthcare cost data to estimate potential savings that could be achieved from incorporating more nature related elements into urban and suburban settings and examines how these changes could associate with health and property insurance.
  • Assuming that time spent in nature were to reduce the impact of mental health issues by just 1% by 2030, global annual economic savings would amount to USD 25-60 billion. For cardiovascular diseases in turn, the same scenario would amount to a global annual cost saving of USD 10 billion.
  • Air pollution is a global health concern; and urban areas with more trees have better air quality. A US study suggested tree coverage in the US removed 17.4 million tonnes of pollutants in 2010, equating to health savings of USD 6.8 billion.Trees also cool down cities in summer and provide space for relaxation. They contribute to preventing heat-induced mortality, respiratory problems and mental disorders, and can be re/insured against extreme weather.
  • Heat-related mortality is increasing across the world due to climate change and more frequent heat waves. Well-vegetated cities cope better with heat. One study suggested air temperatures during heat waves in London could be up to 4?C cooler within a 400m range of parks.
  • The 'Biodiversity and the Benefits for Human Health' publication aligns with Swiss Re's 'The Big Six' Lifestyle Factors, an initiative to develop evidence-based understanding of how lifestyle and clinical factors interact with each other and affect people's health. These factors include mental well-being, physical activity, environment, sleep, nutrition and substance use. Swiss Re is embedding these findings into Life Guide, its life and health flagship underwriting guide.
Download the publication here

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