Climate Change,  Featured,  Global Threats,  Health

Global Threats: Climate Change is a Medical Emergency

By Roberta Attanasio

For many years, we’ve been aware of the impacts of global climate change on human health and well-being. For example, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secure shelter are threatened by rising sea levels and severe weather events. Heat waves dramatically increase death rates not only from heat strokes, but also from complications arising from cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular diseases. However, the impacts of global climate change on human health are even greater than previously thought — according to a report published today (June 23, 2015) in The Lancet, the threat from climate change is so great that it could undermine the last fifty years of gains in development and global health.

Photo credit: Takver, CC BY-SA 2.0

The report (Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health) which frames climate change as a health issue, is by a multidisciplinary and international Commission — the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change — formed to map out the impacts of climate change, and the necessary policy responses, in order to ensure the highest attainable standards of health for populations worldwide. More precisely, the Commission includes European and Chinese climate scientists and geographers, social and environmental scientists, biodiversity experts, engineers and energy policy experts, economists, political scientists and public policy experts, and health professionals.

By making the case for climate change as a health issue, the Commission hopes for greater public resonance. Public concern about the health effects of climate change has the potential to accelerate political action. The report shows that the direct health impacts of climate change come from the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, especially heat waves, floods, droughts and storms, whereas the indirect impacts come from changes in infectious disease patterns, air pollution, food insecurity and malnutrition, involuntary migration, displacement and conflicts. Because appropriate responses to mitigate and adapt to climate change have direct and indirect health benefits — from reducing air pollution to improving diet — concerted global efforts to tackle climate change represent one of the greatest opportunities to improve global health this century.

Commission co-Chair Professor Peng Gong, from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, said in a press release: “The health community has responded too many grave threats to health in the past. It took on entrenched interests such as the tobacco industry, and led the fight against HIV/AIDS. Now is the time for us to lead the way in responding to another great threat to human and environmental health of our generation.”

The commission points out that a strong international consensus is essential to move the world to a global low-carbon economy, harnessing a crucial opportunity to protect human health — particularly the health of the poorest and most vulnerable populations, the hardest hit by the effects of climate change. After all, and as previously mentioned, the central message from the Commission is that the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century could be the tackling of climate change.

Watch the video below for a summary of the Lancet Climate Commission report!


  • Kristen Russell

    Global warming is to blame for changing climates, intense storms, excessive heat waves, droughts, etc. and most of the global warming is a result of human activities, especially through the increasing levels of greenhouse gases – specifically carbon dioxide. Global warming and climate change is also a health issue for all of us. “The health risks posed by climate change are global, and difficult to reverse.”

    Global warming and climate change influences human health and diseases in many different ways and important considerations include age, current health condition, economic resources, and location. According to the National Climate Assessment, “preventative and adaptive actions, such as setting up extreme early weather early warning systems and improving water infrastructure, can reduce the severity of these impacts.”

    Health effects attributed to the increasing temperature of the earth include “respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food- and waterborne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to mental health.”

    1. Meeting of the Advisory Committee (ACM) to review technical matters to
    be discussed at the Sixty-first Session of the Regional Committee
    WHO/SEARO, New Delhi, 30 June – 3 July 20

    2. National Climate Assessment

  • jan loc

    Each one of us should be responsible for protecting our planet. It should be expected that those who pollute clean up after themselves. The cost of pollution should be paid by the Polluters. And now it is clear that there are considerable health costs related to climate change, again these should be paid by the Polluters. As Polluters think in terms of gain and are motivated by greed, making them pay to reduce environmental and health impacts will make them think in pollution reduction in terms of prevention, for example reducing CO2-generating activities. The world’s poorest communities are those that suffer most from climate change. It’s time for the Polluters to address justice, fairness and equity. Everyone deserves climate justice.

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