As the world experiences rising temperatures, flooding and wildfires, the impacts of climate change on human health will become more severe for millions of people, according to a new report.
In a review published by the Lancet, public health officials and climatologists explained how increased heat, extreme weather events, infectious diseases and food insecurity have already caused damage to human health. But as climate change continues on its trajectory, these impacts will only worsen – and continue to make health inequalities even more glaring.
Governments are spending trillions of dollars recovering from COVID-19, providing an opportunity to merge economic redress efforts with climate change mitigation, according to the report. But many stimulus packages threaten to reverse climate progress, as only 18% of global funds allocated to pandemic recovery are expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are recovering from a health crisis in a way that puts our health at risk,” said lead author of the report, Marina Romanello, PhD, of the Institute for Global Health, University College London in a statement.
“It’s time to realize that no one is immune from the effects of climate change,” added Romanello. “As we recover from COVID-19, we still have time to take a different path and create a healthier future for all of us.”
The report, published by the Lancet Countdown, follows recent calls from the medical community to take urgent climate action. In an unprecedented move, more than 200 public health and medical journals published an editorial last month declaring that healthcare professionals “have an obligation not only to anticipate emerging healthcare needs, but also to participate. actively to limit the causes of the climate crisis “.
The Lancet The Countdown Report described 44 indicators assessing the health impacts of the climate emergency, covering topics such as climate change exposure, costs, and government and business involvement. The sixth annual report was released ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), to be held in Scotland later this month.
In an accompanying editorial, Lancet Editors wrote that “the world is watching COP26 – widely seen as the latest and greatest opportunity to redefine the path to global net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – and public interest in climate change is higher than ever, in part because of global youth activism and engagement. “
But the editors added that “this year’s indicators look grim: global inequalities are increasing and the direction of displacement is worsening all health outcomes.”
Adults over 65 were exposed to 3 billion more days of extreme heat last year than they were between the 1986-2005 benchmark average, the researchers said. Extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest and Canada last summer caused more than 1,000 deaths – an event that would have been nearly impossible without human-induced climate change, the researchers said.
Climate change has also put nearly 570 million people living near sea level at risk from increased flooding and storms, forcing many to migrate inland. Warming temperatures have created ideal environments for the transmission of climate-sensitive infectious diseases, including Zika, chikungunya and cholera.
The report also highlighted the ability of climate change to accelerate food insecurity, which affected more than 2 billion people in 2019. Rising temperatures have affected agricultural production, lowering crop yields and putting increased pressure on it. food supply. In 2020, up to 19% of the world’s land surface experienced extreme drought in any given month – a value that did not exceed 13% between 1950 and 1999.
Of the 84 countries examined by Lancet The countdown researchers – who contributed 92% of global carbon dioxide emissions, 65 were still using public funds to subsidize fossil fuels in 2018, the researchers noted. As governments pledge to fund recovery from a pandemic, the report urged public leaders and policymakers to use the funds to reduce inequalities.
Although the Lancet the editors said these results offer a “grim outlook”, adding that the future is not hopeless.
“The key message is that the world needs a new era of research that focuses less on predictions of climate change, and more on predictions of the societal consequences of future warming and how to overcome them,” the editorial said. . “Succumbing to the climate emergency is not inevitable.
The report was supported by the Wellcome Trust.
The researchers did not report any conflicts of interest.