Category: Health

Health must be put at the heart of national climate plans

Health must be put at the heart of national climate plans

By Jeni Miller

For seven decades, the World Health Organization has used April 7th, World Health Day to bring important health issues to public attention. This year, as the world battles the Covid-19 pandemic, the theme is “building a fairer, healthier world for everyone”.

With November’s COP26 fast approaching, this World Health Day message should inspire governments to both take responsibility and to seize the opportunity to commit to ambitious emissions reductions targets, aligned with the Paris Agreement, in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and to make health and equity a central focus of national climate policies.

Right now, many countries are in the process of reviewing their climate commitments and are soon expected to announce updates. They can, and must put health front and centre. The United States, having just re-entered the Paris Agreement, will host a climate leaders’ summit on Earth Day, April 22. To successfully generate international momentum during this summit, the US must step forward with a strong commitment of its own; this is a chance for President Biden to show real climate leadership and recognition of the lessons learned during the pandemic, by fully integrating health into the US Nationally Determined Contribution. Other world leaders must not wait around for US leadership- they must step up their ambitions – and action.

To say there is much to do would be an understatement. A recent UN report found that by 2030, the total GHG emissions of 75 countries responsible for 30% of global emissions are projected to be less than 1% lower than in 2010, falling dangerously short of the 45% reduction in emissions required during this time period if the goal of the Paris Agreement is to be met. The countries responsible for 70% of global emissions are yet to go public with updates to their national climate commitments.

Prolonging this inaction – or taking action that falls far short of what is needed — furthers the risk of endangering both the health of the planet, and of us, the people who depend on its wellbeing for our own health.

In 2020, The World Health Organization and associations representing over 40 million health professionals called for a “green and healthy” COVID-19 recovery. The pandemic has taught that health must be part and parcel of every government policy – including climate policy. A multinational study of doctors’ and nurses’ understanding of and views on climate change, which will be published on 7 April by The Lancet Planetary Health, found that a vast majority of survey respondents believe the health community should have a say in pushing for national policies that will protect health by meeting the targets of the Paris Agreement.

Healthy populations are a prerequisite for economic recovery, while strong health systems are essential to increase resilience to future crises, such as changing infectious disease patterns and extreme weather events.

This is why our organisation, the Global Climate and Health Alliance, plans to release a scorecard by mid-year, to rank progress of countries towards the inclusion of health within national climate commitments – or “Healthy NDCs”, as they prepare for COP26.

Win-win solutions that both protect health and mitigate climate change have never been more relevant than at this moment of economic fragility. Economic well-being is essential to human health; societies that are more economically equitable — where there is less disparity between the wealthiest and the least wealthy — have better health outcomes for all of their citizens. Greater economic equity brings benefits to everyone’s health.

The health impacts of economic disparity have been laid bare by the pandemic. And our most impoverished communities, and low income countries, also suffer disproportionately from climate change impacts.

A country with a healthy national climate action commitment will recognise the impacts of climate change on health, and the need for health and equity to be integrated into adaptation planning. It will set out interventions that reduce emissions and also offer immediate and local health benefits, such as improved air quality, healthier diets, and increased physical activity. Such a country must be ambitious enough to do its fair share to limit warming to 1.5C. Health benefits of climate solutions will help offset the economic costs of climate mitigation and adaptation. Governments can protect their citizens’ health – and prevent millions of untimely deaths – by embedding health in national climate policies.

A paltry 1% reduction in GHG emissions would spell disaster for citizens of every country. Governments must seize this moment to urgently reorient current trajectories for the sake of people worldwide, and for generations to come.

The Global Climate and Health Alliance is calling on governments to ensure that national climate action commitments include:

  • Ambitious commitments for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, aligned with with Paris Agreement target of 1.5C
  • Measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that mitigate climate change and also maximise health benefits – such as by improving air quality, and supporting walking and cycling and public transport use.
  • Calculation of the associated health costs savings, with health impact assessments that demonstrate these health and economic gains.
  • Adaptation strategies which incorporate health and commit investments to build climate smart and resilient healthcare and public health systems.
  • Within and beyond NDCs, Covid-19 recovery investments must align with healthy national climate action/commitments, to protect people, the planet and economies, securing a healthy and sustainable future.

This article was originally published on Climate Home News.

Half a billion people may face heat of 56°C by 2100

Half a billion people may face heat of 56°C by 2100

By Tim Radford

Take today’s heat, apply mathematical logic and consider a murderously hot future, 56°C by 2100, for hundreds of millions.

LONDON, 29 March, 2021 − Many millions of people − among them some of the world’s poorest − will be exposed to potentially lethal temperatures on a routine basis. At worst, the mercury could reach 56°C by 2100.

Even if the world keeps its most ambitious promise and contains global heating to no more than 1.5°C above the global average normal for most of human history, the future looks distinctly menacing.

And if the world doesn’t quite get there, and annual average temperatures − already 1°C above the historic norm − rise to 2°C, then vast numbers of people in South Asia will find themselves exposed to deadly conditions at least three times as often.

As the researchers make this sober warning in one journal, researchers on the same day in yet another journal make a simple prediction about the cost of ignoring such warnings altogether, to go on burning ever more fossil fuels and destroying ever more tracts of the natural world.

If this happens, then people in the Middle East and North Africa will be hit by a new category of thermal menace: the arrival of super-extreme and ultra-extreme heatwaves.

Target far exceeded

Which means that by the end of this century, more than half a billion people could be exposed to temperatures as high as 56°C, not just for days, but for weeks. The hottest temperature so far ever recorded on Earth was 54°C, in Death Valley, California in 2020.

In 2015, almost all of the world’s nations met in Paris and vowed to contain global heating by the century’s end to “well below” a maximum of 2°C. In fact, the less explicit intention was to contain the mercury’s rise to no higher than 1.5°C.

So much for the vow: the latest evidence is that, on the basis of the national declared intentions so far, global temperatures will rise far higher than the 2°C target. And summer − defined as the hottest 25% of the year − could by the century’s end last almost six months.

A new computational study in Geophysical Research Letters warns that the 1.5°C target could be passed by 2040, in just two decades. And with higher average temperatures over longer periods, there will inevitably be higher than average extremes of temperature, more often, for longer periods, and over wider ranges.

“The need for adaptation over South Asia is today, not in the future. It’s not a choice any more.”

The outcome could be devastating for the countries of South Asia − India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma among them − as the thermometer rises and the humidity increases. Researchers have warned for years that at a certain level of heat and humidity − meteorologists call it the “wet bulb” temperature − humans cannot labour productively.

That level is 32°C. At a wet bulb temperature of 35°C, humans cannot expect to survive for long. Some parts of the region have already felt such temperatures with a global average rise of just over 1°C: in 2015, at least 3500 people in Pakistan and India died from causes directly related to extreme heat.

At 1.5°C the consequences could be significantly worse, and at 2°C, the scientists say, the hazard will have been amplified by a factor of 2.7: almost threefold. South Asia could later this century be home to more than two billion people: of the working population, 60% are now engaged in agricultural labour out of doors, and many millions live in crowded cities and in severe poverty. The region should prepare itself for a dangerously hot future.

“The future looks bad for South Asia,” said Moetasim Ashfaq, of the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the authors, “but the worst can be avoided by containing warming to as low as possible. The need for adaptation over South Asia is today, not in the future. It’s not a choice any more.”

That heat extremes are potentially lethal, that the people of South Asia are potentially at risk, and that an enormous proportion of the planet’s population will be exposed to dangerously high temperatures is not in dispute: the questions now are about the degree of danger, and its extent.

Ultra-extreme heat

Once again, the statisticians have been at work, and the answer in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science is: it will be much worse, over a vaster region and for a very large number of people in the Middle East and North Africa.

Their calculations suggest that temperatures could reach as high as 56°C, and even more than 60° C in sweltering cities. Such heat extremes could endure for weeks.

So within the lifetimes of those alive today, about half the region’s population − that is, about 600 million people − could face extreme temperatures of around 56°C by 2100 every summer.

The researchers put their message with unusual forthrightness in the headline: “Business-as-usual will lead to super- and ultra-extreme heatwaves in the Middle East and North Africa.” − Climate News Network

This article was originally posted on The Climate News network.
Cover photo by Sarah Lachise on Unsplash
Europe has grown drier over the last two millennia

Europe has grown drier over the last two millennia

By Tim Radford

Global heating may be to blame for the fact that Europe has grown drier over the last 2,000 years to a new high in 2015.

LONDON, 17 March, 2021 − Europe has grown drier, an outcome shown by the continent’s last five summers, which have been marked by drought that has no parallel in the last two millennia.

Researchers studied two kinds of evidence delivered by 27,000 measurements taken from 21 living oak trees and 126 samples from ancient beams and rafters, to piece together a precise picture of the climate of Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic over the last 2,110 years.

They report, after 2015, that drought conditions intensified suddenly, in ways that were beyond anything over that entire 2000-year tract of time. And, they add, “this hydroclimatic anomaly is probably caused by anthropogenic warming.”

Europe is also getting hotter. In 2003, 2015 and 2018 it was hit by severe summer heat waves and spells of drought that damaged plantations, crops and vines; the damage from drought was intensified by more virulent attacks from pathogens, insect outbreaks and tree death.

“Extreme conditions will become more frequent, which could be devastating for agriculture, ecosystems and societies as a whole”

In the baking summer of 2003, an estimated 70,000 people died because of extremes of heat. And, the researchers say, “a further increase in the frequency and severity of heat waves under projected global warming implies a multitude of harmful direct and indirect impacts on human health.”

In other words, things are bad now and are likely to get worse, according to a report by 17 British, European and Canadian researchers in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Dendrochronologists can and do routinely build up a picture of bygone temperatures by measuring the growth rings in trees: enough old living trees, and reliable knowledge about the felling of oaks for chateaux, cathedrals, sailing ships, fortresses and stockades can help pinpoint seasonal change on an annual basis.

But trees are also living chronicles of changes in carbon and oxygen isotope ratios − tiny atomic variations in the plant’s biochemistry − which provide evidence of rainfall and therefore a more precise picture of any growing season.

Wandering jet stream

The trees delivered mute evidence of very wet summers in 200, 720 and 1100 AD, and very dry summers in the years 40, 590, 950 and 1510 of the Common Era. But overall the big picture emerged: for the years 75 BC to 2018, Europe has slowly been getting drier.

Even so, the evidence from 2015 to 2018 shows that drought conditions in the area from which the trees were taken far exceeds anything in the previous centuries. The mostly likely explanation is the impact of ever-rising temperatures, driven by ever-higher greenhouse gas emissions from the ever-more profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

These temperatures are now considered high enough to affect the course of the stratospheric jet stream in ways that alter the long-term pattern of temperature and rainfall that defines a region’s climate.

“Climate change does not mean it will get drier everywhere,” said Ulf Büntgen, who holds research posts in the University of Cambridge, UK and the Czech Republic and Switzerland. “Some places may get wetter or colder, but extreme conditions will become more frequent, which could be devastating for agriculture, ecosystems and societies as a whole.” − Climate News Network

This article was originally posted on the Climate News Network.
Cover image by US Embassy, Paris (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons
Poorest people will suffer worst from cities’ heat

Poorest people will suffer worst from cities’ heat

By Tim Radford

As ever, the poorest people will most feel the heat in a hotter world. But a green growth initiative could help them.

As the summer thermometer soars, and the cities of the US Southwest are caught up in extremes of heat, the poorest people who live in the least prosperous districts may find their streets as much as 3°C hotter than those of the wealthiest 10%.

And in Los Angeles, one of the richest cities in one of the richest states of the world’s richest nation, citizens in the most heavily Latin-American districts could be as much as 3.7°C hotter than their white, well-heeled neighbours.

Excess heat is linked to heat stroke, exhaustion, respiratory and cardiovascular problems and of course death: one US group has identified 27 ways in which heat can kill, and several sets of researchers have independently established that potentially lethal heat waves are becoming more likelymore extreme and more widespread.

Californian geographers report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that they mapped summer temperatures in 20 urban centres in California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

“The study provides strong new evidence of climate impact disparities affecting disadvantaged communities”

They looked at the data for median household income, and for ethnic origin, to identify the ratio of Black, Latin and Asian populations in each.

They also took into account education levels. And then they looked at satellite data for radiant and atmospheric temperatures on the warmest summer days and nights.

The greatest disparities in street temperature were in California. But on average the poorest 10% of neighbourhoods in a conurbation would be 2.2°C hotter than the wealthiest 10% both on average summer days and during extremes of heat.

There is a term for this: the inner city becomes a heat island. As global temperatures rise, crowded cities become increasingly inhospitable. Paved streets and car parks absorb and retain the sun’s radiation.

Ending ‘thermal inequity’

The suburbs and the high-amenity residential districts will have tree-lined streets, private gardens, parks, flower displays, lawns and even fountains or pools, all to help lower the local temperatures.

Using the constrained language favoured by science journals, the authors write: “The implication would be that programs to increase vegetation within disadvantaged neighborhoods and reduce or lighten pavements and rooftops could help reduce thermal disparities between neighborhoods of different socio-economic characteristics.”

The researchers can hardly have been surprised by their own results: a look at published research had shown them that other groups have found evidence of what they call “thermal inequity” in Hong Kong, New York and Chicago, as well as in Santiago, Chile and in the crowded cities of Britain’s West Midlands.

“The study provides strong new evidence of climate impact disparities affecting disadvantaged communities, and of the need for proactive steps to reduce those risks,” said John Dialesandro, of the department of human ecology at the University of California Davis, who led the research. “There is a strong need for state and local governments to take action.” − Climate News Network

This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network.
Cover image by bantersnaps on Unsplash.
I’m a climate scientist – here’s three key things I have learned over a year of COVID

I’m a climate scientist – here’s three key things I have learned over a year of COVID

By Piers Forster

The planet had already warmed by around 1.2℃ since pre-industrial times when the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic on March 11 2020. This began a sudden and unprecedented drop in human activity, as much of the world went into lockdown and factories stopped operating, cars kept their engines off and planes were grounded.

There have been many monumental changes since then, but for those of us who work as climate scientists this period has also brought some entirely new and sometimes unexpected insights.

Here are three things we have learned:

1. Climate science can operate in real time

The pandemic made us think on our feet about how to get around some of the difficulties of monitoring greenhouse gas emissions, and CO₂ in particular, in real time. When many lockdowns were beginning in March 2020, the next comprehensive Global Carbon Budget setting out the year’s emissions trends was not due until the end of the year. So climate scientists set about looking for other data that might indicate how CO₂ was changing.

We used information on lockdown as a mirror for global emissions. In other words, if we knew what the emissions were from various economic sectors or countries pre-pandemic, and we knew by how much activity had fallen, we could assume that their emissions had fallen by the same amount.

By May 2020, a landmark study combined government lockdown policies and activity data from around the world to predict a 7% fall in CO₂ emissions by the end of the year, a figure later confirmed by the Global Carbon Project. This was soon followed by research by my own team, which used Google and Apple mobility data to reflect changes in ten different pollutants, while a third study again tracked CO₂ emissions using data on fossil fuel combustion and cement production.

The latest Google mobility data shows that although daily activity hasn’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, it has recovered to some extent. This is reflected in our latest emissions estimate, which shows, following a limited bounce back after the first lockdown, a fairly steady growth in global emissions during the second half of 2020. This was followed by a second and smaller dip representing the second wave in late 2020/early 2021.

Shows a drop in pollution during April 2020, then a recovery, then another drop in December 2020
Global changes in pollution levels from lockdown for carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (NOx) and eight other pollutants. Data is compared to 2019 levels. Piers Forster

Meanwhile, as the pandemic progressed, the Carbon Monitor project established methods for tracking CO₂ emissions in close to real time, giving us a valuable new way to do this kind of science.

2. No dramatic effect on climate change

In both the short and long term, the pandemic will have less effect on efforts to tackle climate change than many people had hoped.

Despite the clear and quiet skies, research I was involved in found that lockdown actually had a slight warming effect in spring 2020: as industry ground to a halt, air pollution dropped and so did the ability of aerosols, tiny particles produced by the burning of fossil fuels, to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight away from the Earth. The impact on global temperatures was short-lived and very small (just 0.03°C), but it was still bigger than anything caused by lockdown-related changes in ozone, CO₂ or aviation.

Looking further ahead to 2030, simple climate models have estimated that global temperatures will only be around 0.01°C lower as a result of COVID-19 than if countries followed the emissions pledges they already had in place at the height of the pandemic. These findings were later backed up by more complex model simulations.

Green park and city skyline with blue sky.
Clear skies over usually-polluted Bangkok, Thailand, during lockdown in May 2020. Puiipouiz / shutterstock

Many of these national pledges have been updated and strengthened over the past year, but they still aren’t enough to avoid dangerous climate change, and as long as emissions continue we will be eating into the remaining carbon budget. The longer we delay action, the steeper the emissions cuts will need to be.

3. This isn’t a plan for climate action

The temporary halt to normal life we have now seen with successive lockdowns is not only not enough to stop climate change, it is also not sustainable: like climate change, COVID-19 has hit the most vulnerable the hardest. We need to find ways to reduce emissions without the economic and social impacts of lockdowns, and find solutions that also promote health, welfare and equity. Widespread climate ambition and action by individuals, institutions and businesses is still vital, but it must be underpinned and supported by structural economic change.

Colleagues and I have estimated that investing just 1.2% of global GDP in economic recovery packages could mean the difference between keeping global temperature rise below 1.5°C, and a future where we are facing much more severe impacts – and higher costs.

Unfortunately, green investment is not being made at anything like the level needed. However, many more investments will be made over the next few months. It’s essential that strong climate action is integrated into future investments. The stakes may seem high, but the potential rewards are far higher.

This article was originally posted on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Artur D. on Unsplash.
Millions will die if world fails on climate promises

Millions will die if world fails on climate promises

By Tim Radford

Action to keep climate promises could prevent millions of deaths each year. Unless nations try harder, that won’t happen.

LONDON, 16 February, 2021 − Scientists have looked at conditions in just nine of the world’s 200 nations and found that − if the world keeps its Paris climate promises, of containing global heating to “well below” 2°C by 2100 − millions of lives could be saved.

And another team has looked at what nations actually propose to do so far to hit the Paris targets and found that it is not enough: that everybody will have to be 80% more ambitious.

But, though costly, such ambitions would deliver direct rewards. For a start, the consequences of embarking on policies that would seriously reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel potentially catastrophic climate change could lead to better diets in Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the UK and the US: that alone could save 6.1 million lives.

Thanks to the cleaner air that would come with a drastic reduction in fossil fuel combustion, another 1.6 million people could expect to breathe freely for another year. And the shift from private cars to public transport and foot or bicycle journeys would mean another 2.1 million of us could expect to go on benefiting from the additional exercise for another year, every year.

The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change says in the journal Lancet Planetary Health that it selected the nine nations because they embraced around half the global population and accounted for seven-tenths of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The message is stark. Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year; the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health”

The Countdown also looked at a range of scenarios for action. And the researchers also considered what, so far, those nine nations had promised to do to contain climate change − the international bureaucratic language calls such promises nationally determined contributions, or NDCs − and found them far short of the effective target: right now, the world is heading for a global temperature rise by 2100 of 3°C or more.

And with these higher global average temperatures there will be more devastating and possibly lethal heat waves, more intense and more frequent storms, protracted drought, torrential rain and flooding, and rising sea levels that will intensify erosion and coastal flooding.

The damage that these threaten alone delivers a long-term economic case for concerted global action to shift agricultural emphasis, save natural ecosystems and switch to renewable fuel sources. But the right choice of action could make lives a great deal better as well.

“The message is stark,” said Ian Hamilton, executive director of the Lancet Countdown. “Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year; the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health. We have an opportunity now to place health in the forefront of climate change policies to save even more lives.”

On the same day, a US team published the results of a look at what nations had to do to actually meet the goal chosen at a global conference in Paris in 2015 to contain global heating to no more than 2°C above what had been the long-term average for most of human history.

Avoiding despair

In the last century alone the planet has warmed by more than 1°C, and the last six years have been the warmest six years since records began. The promises made in Paris, if kept, could mean a 1% drop in greenhouse gas emissions every year.

But, scientists say in the journal Communications Earth and Environment, that will not contain global heating to 2°C. To deliver on the promise, the world must reduce emissions by 1.8% a year. That is, the global community will have to try 80% harder.

Some nations are nearer the more ambitious target: China’s declared plans so far would require only a 7% boost. The UK would have to raise its game by 17%. The US − which abandoned the Paris Agreement under former President Trump − has 38% more work to do.

“If you say ‘Everything’s a disaster and we need to radically overhaul society’ there’s a feeling of hopelessness,” said Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington, one of the authors.

“But if we say ‘We need to reduce emissions by 1.8% a year’ that’s a different mindset.” − Climate News Network

This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Maverick Photo Agency, via ClimateVisuals
Tackling COVID-19 and Climate Change in Unison Will Help Us Better Protect People on the Move

Tackling COVID-19 and Climate Change in Unison Will Help Us Better Protect People on the Move

By Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

This article is part of a United Nations University Migration Network series that explores the interrelations and acute challenges of migration, climate change, and COVID-19. As a build-up to International Migrants Day on 18 December 2020, the series examines these connections at local and global levels, highlights impacts on migrants, and provides evidence-based insights for United Nations member states, governments, and policymakers.

The COVID-19 pandemic gives us a stark image of what a world looks like when health is threatened on a global scale. Life as we once knew it has come to a standstill. When we do overcome this pandemic, however, the health and well-being impacts of climate change, will continue. The 2020 Lancet Countdown report published earlier this month shows how climate change is leading to immediate, profound, and worsening health impacts across the world. Bringing together 120 scientists from various research fields, and covering 43 global indicators, the report reveals how no country is immune, but also how some populations (such as people on the move) will suffer more than others.

I have been part of the Lancet Countdown since its very beginning and I currently work with the sub-working group focusing on human migration in a warming world. We estimate that, based on current population data, 145 million people will be exposed to potential inundation with global mean sea-level rise of one metre. The amount of people exposed jumps to 565 million with a five-metre sea-level rise scenario.

Unless we act now, we will be able to observe how more and more vulnerable people face further disruptions to their livelihoods and lives. We do not have the luxury of tackling one crisis at a time. The health harms of climate change are compounding the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Extreme weather events and climatic changes are displacing people at the same time as the pandemic. Adding to this, both climate change and COVID-19 exacerbate existing social inequalities within and between countries. We cannot afford to focus attention only on the COVID-19 pandemic at the expense of climate action.

A globally coordinated effort tackling COVID-19 and climate change will also mean a triple win: better public health, a more sustainable economy, and environmental protection. Unless the global COVID-19 recovery is aligned with the response to climate change, we will fail to meet the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement and in the Sustainable Development Goals. Taking action to address climate change offers a way to protect the health and well-being of vulnerable people on the move now and in the future.

People on the move during the pandemic

It is still too early to get a good picture of how the pandemic has impacted people on the move, whether displaced in their own countries or seeking refuge elsewhere. That said, in our recently published article we give an overview of what we do know. We know that people seeking work in the cites, after being unable to sustain themselves through natural resource-based livelihoods (such as fishing and farming), often settle down in slums upon their arrival. In these informal settlements, migrants often reside in overcrowded spaces while struggling with fragile healthcare systems and lacking basic infrastructure such as access to water and sanitation.

About a billion people around the world, including approximately 30–50% of the urban population in the global South, live in slums. This is also where many internally displaced people end up. Imposing lockdowns in these areas can leave millions of people stranded without livelihood opportunities or food. We also know that migrants sometimes are not entitled to support services available to other citizens, and conflict-traumatised refugee populations often do not trust or seek help from the official authorities when feeling unwell.

Fear among refugees in regards to COVID-19 is also spreading due to misinformation. For example, one Rohingya refugee in the world’s largest refugee camp located in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh stated that ‘If anyone gets infected, the authority has to kill her/him. Because if (s)he stays alive, the virus will transfer to another person’s body.’ In this way, fear and stigma among the Rohingya refugees result in people avoiding to seek care as well as infected people being denied treatment.

Many informal workers, such as this vendor in Bangladesh, were left without social protection schemes as countries went into COVID-19 lockdown. Photo: © Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson / UNU.

Where do we go from here?

The year 2020 will forever be remembered as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that we remember this brutal lesson, but also that the pandemic represents a new beginning. People on the move must be safeguarded throughout the pandemic as well as after. We must unite together in these efforts and refuse to let ultra-vulnerable people be pushed aside. We need to pay more attention to human rights violations, not simply those forcing people to flee, but also those that follow in the footsteps of people on the move — whether it is through the denial of basic health services, water, food, and sanitation, or the intensified justification of hostile treatment and removal of asylum seekers.

It is more important than ever that we ensure that people do not end up in situations where their health and safety are not guaranteed. If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us it is that the risk to one person’s well-being can be a slippery slope towards putting us all at risk. The recommendations long made by human rights and sustainable living frameworks would have reduced the spread of this deadly virus. Ensuing that we ‘build back better’, and create a more sustainable future for people on the move, will benefit us all!

This article was originally posted on Our World, United Nations University.
Image by Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson / UNU.
Science suggests possible climate link to Covid-19

Science suggests possible climate link to Covid-19

By Tim Radford

Researchers think there could be a climate link to Covid-19. In which case, worse could yet happen.

LONDON, 5 February, 2021 − British and US scientists think there may be a connection between global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use, and the emergence of the bat-borne virus that has triggered a global pandemic and has so far claimed more than two million lives worldwide − in short, a possible climate link to Covid-19.

The connection is possibly quite simple. Rising average temperatures encouraged a change in the natural vegetation of the forests of Yunnan, the southern Chinese province, close to the forests of Laos and Myanmar.

What had been tropical shrubland shifted to tropical savannah and deciduous woodland: the province became a suitable habitat for many bat species. It is also home to the scaly anteater known as the pangolin, and the masked palm civet: both of these have been also proposed as intermediate carriers of the virus. 

And, researchers say, in the last century an additional 40 bat species moved into Yunnan: these may have delivered 100 more types of bat coronavirus to the pool of potential infection.

Magnet for bats

And this “global hotspot” − far from the city where the first human cases were first confirmed − is where all the genetic data suggest that the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 may have arisen, says a study in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in Yunnan province suitable for more bat species,” said Robert Beyer of the University of Cambridge, now at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who led the research.

“Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

That animals carry viruses which can infect other species is well established: the HIV-Aids pandemic, the Ebola outbreaks in Africa and many other infections have all been linked to animal-to-human transmission.

For decades, scientists have been recording new “zoonotic” or animal-borne diseases in humans at the rate of two a year. An estimated 80% of all the viruses linked to human disease are of animal origin, including rabies.

“The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wake-up call to reduce global emissions”

The link between human disturbance of wilderness and disease outbreak has been made before, and more than once. A study by Cambridge scientists last year identified 161 steps humankind could take to reduce the ever-growing risks of zoonotic infection that could lead to even more devastating pandemics.

The case for bat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 driven by climate change remains circumstantial. It identifies a suspect and a set of possibly incriminating connections, but does not deliver the evidence for a secure conviction.

Using global records of temperature, rainfall and cloud cover, the scientists behind the latest study mapped global vegetation as it must have been a century ago. Then they used what they knew of the ecology of the world’s bat species to estimate the global distribution of each species 100 years ago. And then they matched this with records of species distribution in the last decade.

“As climate change altered habitats, species left some areas and moved into others − taking their viruses with them. This not only altered the regions where viruses are present, but most likely allowed for new interactions between animals and viruses, causing more harmful viruses to be transmitted or evolve,” Dr Beyer said.

There are more than 1,400 species of bat worldwide: these carry around 3,000 kinds of coronavirus, in ways that are mostly harmless to the host.

Risk increases

If the number of bat species increases, in a region also occupied by humans, then the risk of the infection of a new host, via bat urine, faeces, saliva or other transmission, also increases.

Bat viruses have been linked to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Cov-1 and CoV-2.

The region of Yunnan identified as now richer in bat species is also home to the pangolin, and one theory is that the virus jumped from bat to pangolin, or bat to masked palm civet, and then to humans when a pangolin was sold at a wildlife market in Wuhan, in Hubei province, more than 1200 kilometres away, where the first cases of Covid-19 were detected..

The implication of such a research finding is that, if human disturbance of the natural world increases the chance of such animal-to-human infection, then it will happen again. And it could happen with even greater potential loss of life.

That is why the discovery of this possible climate link to Covid-19 will now attract the minutest attention not only of scientists but of policymakers across the world.

“The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wake-up call to reduce global emissions,” said Camilo Mora, of the University of Hawaii, another of the research team. − Climate News Network

Cover photo by Louis Mornaud on Unsplash
This article was originally published on The Climate News Network. Read the original story here.
Can SE Asian workers take the heat? Researchers tackle rising temperatures

Can SE Asian workers take the heat? Researchers tackle rising temperatures

By Rina Chandran

BANGKOK, Jan 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The effects rising heat has on vulnerable workers in Southeast Asia is the focus of a new study that also aims to find out what employers and authorities can do to reduce the impact of soaring temperatures in cities.

The three-year study, led by the National University of Singapore (NUS), will examine how heat stress impacts outdoor and indoor workers, including women in Singapore, Hanoi and Phnom Penh, said Jason Lee, the lead researcher.

The project, titled Heat-Safe, views heat as a “complex socio-environmental problem” that affects workers not just in the workplace, but also in public spaces and at home, resulting in lasting mental stress and other health concerns, said Lee.

“The assumption is that only outdoor workers are affected, but factory workers also face heat stress – and in Southeast Asia these are mostly women in garment factories,” said Lee, a research associate professor at NUS.

“The study is all the more relevant now, when we have seen the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on migrant workers who make up the bulk of construction and shipyard workers in Singapore, and garment workers in other countries,” he said.

Heat-related deaths are soaring around the world, and higher temperatures resulted in 302 billion working hours lost globally in 2019 compared with 199 billion in 2000, according to a recent study in The Lancet medical journal.

A 2019 report by the International Labour Organization forecast that an increase in heat stress would lead to productivity losses equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs in 2030.

Besides monitoring hourly heat levels in select workplaces in the three Southeast Asian cities, Heat-Safe will also evaluate psychological strain on workers and the impact on fertility and birth rates among women workers, Lee said.

The study, backed by the Singapore government, will also examine home conditions of workers, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.

“If they are unable to rest comfortably at home, that affects their vulnerability,” said Lee, a thermal physiologist who has studied the effects of heat on the armed forces.

While the study launched on Oct. 1, travel restrictions and curbs on movement because of the coronavirus have posed challenges, but researchers are now gearing up for easing restrictions and the warmer months ahead, Lee said.

More governments are recognising the growing health and economic threats to their workforce from scorching temperatures, exacerbated in many cases by high humidity.

A study published in November on the impact of heat stress on workers in Australia said that current health and safety laws are inadequate, and that employers prioritise productivity over workers’ health.

People whose jobs are “less secure” – including temporary, on-demand and migrant workers – are at greater risk, said the study by the University of Technology Sydney.

“Questions of social justice are deeply embedded in climate change and rising temperatures,” it said.

In Singapore, more than three-quarters of total coronavirus cases were linked to crowded dormitories that house more than 300,000 foreign workers, leading the government to pledge to improve their living conditions.

Elsewhere in the region, migrant workers have been dumped or persecuted during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’d like to think there is greater pressure now on governments and employers to take action to better protect vulnerable workers,” said Lee.

“It is time we paid attention to the working and living conditions of these workers.”

Read the original story here.
Building Climate Resilience to Extreme Heat During COVID-19

Building Climate Resilience to Extreme Heat During COVID-19

By Anjali Jaiswal, Kim Knowlton, Vijay Limaye

This blog originally appeared on the NRDC website.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the coronavirus pandemic puts a spotlight on climate change and health. Temperatures are already rising to 40°C (104°F) while the countries’ 1.3 billion people remain on lockdown. Government officials and health care professionals in India are actively diligently working to contain the spread of COVID-19 while also initiating efforts to protect communities from imminent heat waves through Heat Action Plans and Cool Roofs. NRDC and partners that are leading this work have recently been selected as finalists for the prestigious 2020 Ashden Awards, which recognize pioneering sustainability solutions.

India’s 2020 Heat Season

Brutally hot weather is a major health threat in India and many other parts of the world. Climate change is fueling more frequent, intense, and longer heat waves. The COVID-19 emergency worsens the response to heat-related illness since hospitals and urban health centers are already stressed. In response to this mounting threat, cities and regions across India are taking concrete actions to build resilience and better prepare and protect communities.

Heat is not merely an inconvenience; it kills. Symptoms of heat-related illness include vomiting, headaches, dehydration, and diarrhea. Staff in hospitals, businesses, and municipal buildings often struggle to keep communities cool and healthy. The number of high-temperature days in India has increased over the past fifty years, and especially since the 1990s, in highly-populated cities, such as Mumbai and New Delhi.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) are already working to prepare and respond to anticipated heatwaves. NDMA is also charged as the central agency responsible for COVID-19 response, making the burden of this season even heavier. For the 2020 heat season, IMD’s seasonal forecast shows the heat wave conditions are likely to be severe. NDMA has already activated the network of state disaster response agencies and city leaders to prepare for the soaring temperatures, including an updated list of Do’s and Don’t’s.

Heat Action Plans and Cool Roof Program

NRDC and a broad set of partners, including the Public Health Foundation of India – Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar (PHFI-IIPH-G) work with government leaders and key experts across India and internationally to develop, launch, and implement heat action plans. Heat action plans are a comprehensive plans for building climate resilience to extreme heat events through public awareness and community outreach; early warning system and interagency coordination; capacity building among health care professionals; and reducing heat exposure and promoting adaptive measures.

A peer-reviewed and published study found that Ahmedabad, one of India’s largest cities, avoided an estimated 1,190 deaths each year after implementing the country’s first Heat Action Plan. The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan was originally released in 2013 and developed by NRDC, IIPH-G and partners. Heat Action Plans have since expanded to over 23 states and over 100 cities and districts through the leadership of NDMA.

An important component of heat action plans includes cool roofs. Cool roofs reflect sunlight and absorb less heat. Depending on the setting, cool roofs can help keep indoor temperatures lower by 2 to 5°C (3.6 – 9°F) as compared to traditional roofs. They are cost effective solutions that work to protect vulnerable groups and slum communities.

Cities, states and the national government are taking steps to protect communities and save energy costs, through cool roof programs. For example, Ahmedabad has started a cool roofs program for over 15,000 buildings as part of its heat action plan this year, focusing on slum households and city-owned buildings. Building on its initial pilot program two year ago, Hyderabad now has a draft statewide policy as part of its building efficiency program. The national government is working towards sustainable cooling for all with the India Cooling Action Plan, which includes promotion of passive cooling techniques such as cool roofs and energy efficiency programs for buildings, air conditioners and fans.

Ashden Cool Cities Award Finalist

The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan, along with its cool roofs program, is among the two finalists up for the award in the Cool Cities category, as highlighted in the Ashden blog earlier this month. We are honored to share the nomination with a women-led architecture firm ECOnsult, keeping farm workers in the Egyptian desert cool.

The Ashden Cool Cities Award, sponsored by K-CEP and Climateworks, emphasized the link between the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis because “those already disadvantaged are most at risk”. That is why the Ashden finalists include organizations helping the most vulnerable. Ashen also highlights another link between the two emergencies and theme for the finalist: “How all of us, whatever our wealth or status, can come together to create change that benefits everyone.”

NRDC is deeply humbled to share the Ashden nomination with the many partners who contribute to effective Heat Action Plans and Cool Roofs Programs. We congratulate all of our partners and their unique roles.

Many cities, states and institutions around India also contributed to the effectiveness of Heat Action Plans, including public and private hospitals, urban health centers, link works, 108 ambulance response services and more. Several international experts also contributed to the Heat Action Plans and Cool Roofs, including deep expertise from the University of WashingtonMount Sinai Icahn School of Public Health, and Georgia Tech Institute of Technology, as well as, NYC Cool RoofsNational Ocean and Atmospheric AgencyGlobal Heat Health Information NetworkIndo-US Science and Technology Forum, the Climate Development and Knowledge Network, among others.

As climate change continues to fuel brutal heat waves worldwide, effective public health response strategies are more important than ever before. Drawing on the strengths of government leadership, efficient interagency coordination, scientific expertise, robust communication programs, effective community engagement, strong action on heat preparedness can deliver lifesaving benefits. In discussing the commonality between the coronavirus emergency and climate crisis, Shloka Nath with TataTrusts recently reminded us, “The only boat that is going to save us, is the boat we build together.”

Cover photo from Climate Visuals.