Report says billions now at risk of climate health threats

The health of billions of the world’s population is now under serious threat unless action is taken on climate change.

A powerful report on the health of the planet from a collaboration of some of the world’s leading scientific experts warned climate change is having a range of impacts on health today that will become more severe unless urgent action is taken.

Vulnerable populations will see their health increasingly undermined by both direct impacts, such as from extreme heat, and indirect ones, e.g. from reduced food and nutrition security. To produce science-based analysis and recommendations on a global scale, scientists from around the world, brought together by the world’s science academies under the umbrella of the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), have teamed up to collect and evaluate relevant evidence. The three-year project involving well over 80 experts examined a number of climate mitigation and adaptation actions that could bring significant improvements to health and health equity.

“Climate change threatens the health of billions of people, especially those who contribute least to climate change, but many strategies to cut greenhouse gas emissions can improve health in the near-term,” said the report, ‘Health in the climate emergency – a global perspective’.

“Billions of people are at risk, therefore we call for action against climate change to benefit health and also advance health equity.”  said Robin Fears, IAP project coordinator and co-author of the IAP report.

The report said climate change will impact a wide range of health outcomes including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, water and food-borne diseases, undernutrition and mental health. There is also growing risk of forced migration with its attendant adverse health consequences.

It said one third of heat related deaths over recent decades can be attributed to climate change according to analysis of data from over 700 sites in 43 countries.

“Many policies and actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions also benefit health in the near term as well as reducing the risks of dangerous climate change,” explained Andrew Haines, professor of environmental change and public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and co-chair of the IAP project.

The study said climate change is already reducing food and nutrition security and, unless tackled, will have ever greater impacts on undernutrition and deaths.

IAP said promoting dietary change, increasing consumption of fruit, vegetables and legumes and reducing red meat intake, where that is excessive, could have major health and environmental benefits. Such diets would enable significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from food systems as well as reducing water and land use demands. Furthermore, through the reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and other conditions, there would be major reductions in non-communicable disease burden.

The report stresses that climate change affects the health of all people, but the burden is not distributed evenly or fairly.

“Instead, it falls most heavily on those in low socio-economic conditions and marginalized people and is influenced by intersecting factors such as health status, social, economic, and environmental conditions, and governance structures. Climate change impacts exacerbate inequities and injustices already experienced by vulnerable populations, many of which are founded in colonialism, racism, discrimination, oppression, and development challenges”, said Sherilee Harper, associate professor at the University of Alberta, Canada and co-author of the report. “We emphasise that health-related adaptation efforts must prioritize Indigenous Peoples, ageing populations, children, women and girls, those living in challenging socioeconomic settings, and geographically vulnerable populations.”

The report said climate change will impact a wide range of health outcomes including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, water and food-borne diseases, undernutrition and mental health. There is also growing risk of forced migration with its attendant adverse health consequences.

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