Climate change is a serious threat to 50 years of progress in global health — but, as a major new study says, tackling global warming presents the greatest global opportunity to improve people’s health.
Climate change threatens to undermine half a century of progress in global health, according to a major new report.
But the analysis also concludes that the benefits to health resulting from slashing fossil fuel use are so large that tackling global warming also presents the greatest global opportunity to improve people’s health in the 21st century.
The report was produced by the Lancet/UCL commission on health and climate change, a collaboration of dozens of experts from around the world, and is backed by Margaret Chan, head of the UN World Health Organisation.
“We see climate change as a major health issue and that it is often neglected in the policy debates,” said Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute of Global Health and co-chair of the commission.
“On our current trajectory, going to 4C [of warming] is somewhere we don’t want to go and that has very serious and potentially catastrophic effects for human health and human survival and could undermine all of the last half-century’s gains. We see that as a medical emergency because the action we ned to do to stop that in its tracks and get us back onto a 2C trajectory or less requires action now – and action in the next ten years – otherwise the game could be over.”
The comprehensive analysis sets out the direct risks to health, including heatwaves, floods and droughts, and indirect – but no less deadly – risks, including air pollution, spreading diseases, famines and mental ill-health. A rapid phase-out of coal from the global energy mix is among the commission’s top recommendations, given the millions of premature deaths from air pollution this would prevent.
The report states that political will is now the major barrier to delivering a low-carbon economy and the associated improvements to health and poverty, not finance or technology.
The authors argue that health has been neglected from the climate change debate. It says doctors and other health professionals must take a leading role in ending society’s “addiction” to fossil fuels, having confronted “powerful entrenched interests”, such as the tobacco industry, in the past.