Public health impact from climate change

While we are reading more and more about the impacts from climate change, Paul Gallagher provides a good article on the inews website about a new report. Hopefully one day soon our policies will be revised to properly reflect these concerns.


Climate change ‘irreversibly’ damaging public health

Climate change is already damaging public health in potentially irreversible ways, according to a major new report.

Rising temperatures mean labour productivity is being badly affected while the spread of infectious disease and exposure to air pollution is worsening, the first report of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change reveals.

Almost 9 in 10 (87 per cent) of cities worldwide are now in breach of WHO air pollution guidelines, meaning billions of people are exposed to unsafe levels of atmospheric particulate matter – a significantly higher amount than previously thought.

Last week, London Mayor Sadiq Khan introduced a T-charge for the capital which sees a £10 charge added on to the congestion charge to the most polluting vehicles. The move, which will affect as many as 10,000 motorists each day, has been made in a bid to clean up the air in London where up to 9,000 people a year die prematurely due to long-term exposure to toxic air.

Although in cities such as Berlin, London, and Tokyo, the proportion of trips by cars and other motor transport has slowly decreased since the late 1990s, levels have remained high in others, such as Vancouver and Sydney, and appear to be increasing in places like Santiago. Levels of cycling are generally low but appear to be increasing in many cities.

The Lancet report also reveals that 125 million extra medically vulnerable adults have been exposed to heatwaves between 2000 and 2016 – and 1 billion additional people each year can be expected to be exposed to heatwaves by 2040. Elderly people, children younger than 12 months, and people with chronic cardiovascular and renal disease are particularly sensitive to these changes. The health impacts of extreme heat range from direct heat stress and heat stroke, to exacerbations of preexisting heart failure, and even an increased incidence of acute kidney injury from dehydration in vulnerable populations.

“The effects [of climate change] also threaten to undermine many of the social, economic, and environmental drivers of health that have contributed greatly to human progress,” the report says.


Professor Hugh Montgomery, co-chair of The Lancet Countdown from University College London, said: “We are only just beginning to feel the impacts of climate change. Any small amount of resilience we may take for granted today will be stretched to breaking point sooner than we may imagine.

“We cannot simply adapt our way out of this, but need to treat both the cause and the symptoms of climate change. There are many ways to do both that make better use of overstretched healthcare budgets and improve lives in the process.”

The authors said unavoidable increases in global temperature, and the role of climate change as an accelerant of instability, mean the problems can be expected to significantly worsen.

“We still need to see a step-change from governments in efforts to tackle both the cause and impacts of climate change. This underscores the importance of continuing to build on promising signs of progress in decarbonisation,” their report says.

“The world has already begun to embark on a path to a low-carbon and healthier world. Whilst the pace of action must greatly accelerate, the direction of travel is set. The health benefits on offer are monumental, just as the alternative costs of inaction are stark, inexcusable and ultimately counted in preventable loss of life.”

Although an increase in electric cars, generation of renewable energy, and health adaptation spending show that momentum is building, further progress is urgently needed, the authors said.

Dr Clare Goodess, from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, said: “The indicators reveal some stark warnings for human health as well as some glimmers of hope. Crucially, these indicators will be published and reviewed annually until 2030 so progress can be clearly monitored.

“As the authors say, more work is needed to improve the attribution of these observed changes to climate change. However, many of the most dramatic trends in health impacts are related to rising temperature and more frequent high-temperature extremes. The attribution of these temperature trends to human activities is now unequivocal so the urgency of addressing the issues raised by this report is not in doubt.”


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