A report of a major new commission published in The Lancet has revealed that the threat to human health from climate change is so great that it could undermine the last fifty years of gains in development and global health.
The report provides new evidence showing that because responses to mitigate and adapt to climate change have direct and indirect health benefits concerted global efforts to tackle climate change actually represent one of the greatest opportunities to improve global health this century. The potentially catastrophic risk to human health posed by climate change has been underestimated, say the authors, and while the technologies and finance required to address the problem can be made available, there is lack of global political will to implement them.
According to commission co-chair professor Anthony Costello, Director of the University College London (UCL) Institute for Global Health, UK, “Climate change has the potential to reverse the health gains from economic development that have been made in recent decades… However, our analysis shows that by tackling climate change, we can also benefit health, and tackling climate change in fact represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come.”
The report shows that the direct health impacts of climate change come from the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, especially heat waves, floods, droughts and storms. Indirect impacts come from fall in infectious disease, air pollution, food insecurity and malnutrition, displacement and conflicts.
“Climate Change is a medical emergency,” said commission co-chair professor Hugh Montgomery, director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance. “It thus demands an emergency response, using technologies available now.”
There are numerous ways in which action on climate change brings immediate health gains – burning fewer fossil fuels reduces respiratory diseases, and active transport cut pollution and traffic accidents, and reduces rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Commission co-chair professor Peng Gong, from Tsinghua University, China, says “The health community has responded to many grave threats to health in the past. It took on the tobacco industry, and led the fight against HIV/AIDS. Now is the time for us to lead the way in responding to another threat.”