A climate change health catastrophe?

This week we reported that the world is likely to see its hottest year on record in the next five years, according to new research from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO has issued its Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update which warned there is now a 40% chance of the annual average global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5°C above the pre-industrial levels in at least one of the next five years – and these odds are increasing with time. The figure is double that of the report’s prediction from 12 months ago.

Scary, right? Or maybe not, depending on where you are coming from. For my theory is that for too many people and business, such statistics remain empty figures.

So let’s put this into a clearer perspective, and look at one very real risk that climate change will have: the risk to human health. And this risk is very real: a recent international study in respected health journal The Lancet says that many more people will be exposed to extreme weather events over the next century than previously thought—“a potentially catastrophic risk to human health”.

Below is a fascinating list of some of the most likely impacts of climate change on human health, taken from a fascinating article in the National Geographic

  • Power outages in extreme weather could cripple hospitals and transportation systems when we need them most.
  • Crop declines could lead to undernutrition, hunger, and higher food prices. More CO2 in the air could make staple crops like barley and soy less nutritious.
  • Occupational hazards such as risk of heatstroke will rise, especially among farmers and construction workers.
  • Hotter days, more rain, and higher humidity will produce more ticks, which spread infectious diseases like Lyme disease. Ticks could be in much of the eastern US by 2080.
  • More heat can mean longer allergy seasons and more respiratory disease. More rain increases mould, fungi, and indoor air pollutants.
  • Mosquito-borne dengue fever has increased 30-fold in the past 50 years. Three-quarters of those exposed so far live in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Drought and chronic water shortages harm rural areas and 150 million city dwellers. If localities don’t adjust quickly, that number could be nearly a billion by 2050.
  • Rising sea levels can threaten freshwater supplies for people living in low-lying areas. More severe storms can cause city sewage systems to overflow.

Sober reading, indeed.


Marcus Alcock,

Editor, Emerging Risks