Climate risks extend to rich
A new report finds no country – whether rich or poor – is immune from the health impacts of worsening climate change.
Research journal The Lancet’s Countdown on Health and Climate Change fifth annual report tracks over 40 indicators on links between health and climate change, presenting the most worrying outlook to date as key trends worsen.
Unless urgent action is taken, climate change will increasingly threaten global health, disrupt lives and livelihoods, and overwhelm healthcare systems, the report says.
However, the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic offers a key moment to act on climate change.
Together, a joint response to converging crises offers the chance to improve public health, create a sustainable economy, and protect the environment, according to the experts.
“The pandemic has shown us that when health is threatened on a global scale, our economies and ways of life can come to a standstill,” says Dr Ian Hamilton, executive director of the Lancet Countdown.
“The threats to human health are multiplying and intensifying due to climate change, and unless we change course our healthcare systems are at risk of being overwhelmed in the future.
“This year’s devastating US wildfires and tropical storms in the Caribbean and Pacific, coinciding with the pandemic, have tragically illustrated that the world doesn’t have the luxury of dealing with one crisis at a time.”
New evidence from the report shows that the last two decades have seen a 54 per cent increase in heat-related deaths in older people, with a record 2.9 billion additional days of heatwave exposure affecting over-65s in 2019 – almost twice the previous high.
However, the 120 world-leading health and climate change academics and clinicians behind the new report say that if the world takes urgent action to tackle climate change – by implementing plans to deliver commitments of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2°C – it can mitigate these shocks and achieve health and economic benefits instead.
At the same time, these actions could reduce the risk of future pandemics, because the drivers of climate change can also drive zoonotic pandemic risk (the risk of pandemics caused by infectious diseases that jump from non-human animals to humans).