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.
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!