Climate change poses a threat so serious that it could reverse the last 50 years of progress in global health and development, a report published today (23 June) in The Lancet has warned.
But the potential health benefits of fighting climate change mean that tackling the problem presents one of the greatest opportunities to improve health this century, the 2015 Lancet Commission said.
“Climate change is a medical emergency. It thus demands an emergency response,” said commission co-chair Professor Hugh Montgomery, director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London (UCL).
“No doctor would consider a series of annual case discussions and aspirations adequate, yet this is exactly how the global response to climate change is proceeding,” he added.
Climate change will increase extreme weather events, especially heat waves, floods, droughts and storms, said the commission of European and Chinese scientists, engineers and energy policy experts, political scientists, health professionals and economists.
Indirect health costs of climate change include air pollution, changes in infectious disease patterns, food insecurity, malnutrition, involuntary migration, displacement and conflicts.
But climate action brings immediate health gains, according to the report. Burning fewer fossil fuels reduces respiratory disease and walking and cycling cuts pollution, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
The European Commission has said that climate action would bring benefits of €38 billion a year in 2050 through reduced mortality caused by air pollution.
International deal needed
The report said a strong international agreement was needed to move the world to a low carbon economy. The pact must make sure that human health is protected, particularly in the poorest countries, which will be the ones hardest hit by climate change.
World leaders will meet in Paris this November to try and secure a legally binding deal to keep global warming below two degrees.
Génon Jensen, executive director of NGO, the Health and Environment Alliance, said, “The health benefits from climate action should become a much more prominent argument for an ambitious climate agreement.
“With this new report, heads of state and governments participating in the Paris talks have the evidence base at hand to support an ambitious agreement, a swifter move away from fossil fuels and a decarbonisation path that will boost the health of their citizens.”
The report authors want a new independent global body formed to monitor climate change and health.
“Climate change has the potential to reverse the health gains from economic development that have been made in recent decades, said Commission co-chair Professor Anthony Costello.
Costello, director of the UCL Institute for Global Health, added, “Our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate change we can also benefit health, and tackling climate change in fact represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come.”