Experts warn: climate change already a health emergency

Experts warn: climate change already a health emergency

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Climate change is already damaging people’s health in a number of ways from deadly heatwaves across the globe to increasing instances of dengue fever in the tropics.

The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, produced by 150 experts from 27 universities and institutions including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, also shows climate change can negatively affect nutrition, mental health, and people’s capacity to work outdoors.

During the press conference marking the report’s launch, authors highlighted that the combination of rising temperatures, leading to higher A&E and hospital admissions due to heat-related illness, and extreme weather event, which can damage infrastructure, could overwhelm health services.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said about the report “The findings are clear and the stakes could not be higher, we cannot delay action on climate change. We cannot sleepwalk through this health emergency any longer.”

Nick Watt, the executive director of the Lancet Countdown, added “These are not things happening in 2050 but are things we are already seeing today. We think of these as the canary in, ironically, the coalmine.”

According to the report, 153 billion hours of work were lost in 2017 due to extreme heat. 80% of it in agriculture and almost half of the losses happened in India, which is equal to roughly 7% of its whole working population. Compared to the year 2000, 157 million more vulnerable people were exposed to heatwaves in 2017 and 18 million more than in 2016.

The temperature increase is not just dangerous because the heat itself affects human health directly, it also exacerbates urban air pollution. With 97% of cities in low- and middle- income countries not meeting WHO air quality guidelines, this adds even more pressure to health systems.

Prof. Kris Ebi, Professor of global health and of environmental and occupational health science, University of Washington, said “Increased mortality in extreme heatwaves is not something that may happen, it’s happening now and will continue as global temperatures continue to rise. There is abundant evidence that communities are not prepared for the ongoing increases in the frequency, intensity, and duration of heatwaves. Actions are needed right now, matched with investments, such as implementing early warning systems for heatwaves, including mapping vulnerable populations and providing interventions designed to increase resilience during hot weather.”

Of the 478 global cities surveyed in the report, 51% were expecting climate change to seriously compromise their public health infrastructure. 65% said they have either already completed or are currently doing climate change risk assessments but spending on climate adaptation for health is estimated to be just 4·8% (£11·68 billion) of all adaptation spending which is woefully inadequate, the report warns.

Access the report and its accompanying materials by clicking here.

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