The Lancet: climate change already damaging health of millions globally

A joint media release from The Lancet medical journal and the RACP

doctor and globeResearch from 24 global institutions published in The Lancet points to looming public health emergency.

New research shows that climate change is already a significant public health issue and a looming global health emergency. Its findings, outlined in The Lancet medical journal, demonstrate the various ways climate change is already affecting the health of people across the planet, today.

Leading doctors, academics and policy professionals from 24 partner organisations have contributed analysis and jointly authored the report. As members of The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, partners behind the research include the World Bank, World Health Organization (WHO), University College London and Tsinghua University, among others.

Analysis across five separate themes and the 40 indicators that form the basis of the 2017 report, provides the first global stocktake of the issue. Publishing its research annually in The Lancet, its findings are intended to help inform an accelerated policy response to climate change and equip health professionals in managing its implications.

Specific to Australia:
  • Health effects of heatwaves: compared with the 1986-2008 average, 117,259 more people over 65 have been exposed to heatwaves in Australia from 2000 to 2016 on average. In 2012, 826,682 people aged over 65 were exposed to heatwaves.
  • Climate-sensitive infectious diseases: the vectorial capacity of one dengue carrying mosquito has increased by 11.8% since 1990.
  • Exposure to ambient air pollution in cities: annual average PM2.5 concentrations in Australia are 7 ug/m3, with a maximum measurement of 10 ug/m3 in Geraldton and La Trobe Valley. The WHO recommends that PM2.5 concentrations do not exceed 10 ug/m3.

Funds divested from fossil fuels: a total of $28,586,163,400 has been divested from the health sector in Australia.

The initiative builds on the work of the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, which concluded that anthropogenic climate change threatens to undermine the last 50 years of gains in public health4. These impacts are disproportionately felt by communities least responsible for climate change and those who are the most vulnerable in society.

Despite the scale of the challenge, the report points to clear reasons for optimism. Momentum in cutting emissions responsible for climate change is building across a number of sectors, with significant benefit for public health to follow. This transition is most apparent in trends across the energy and transport sectors. Notable examples include peak global coal use, with numerous national commitments to phase-out coal power – across Canada, Finland, France, Netherlands, and the UK – the rapid rise of renewable energy, and emerging transformation of transport driven by electric vehicles. These interventions go hand-in-hand with improved air quality and substantial benefits for human health.

The authors are clear the necessary response to climate change still provides an opportunity to realise substantial gains in public health. The potential benefits and opportunities are staggering, including cleaning-up the air of polluted cities, delivering more nutritious diets, ensuring energy, food and water security, and alleviating poverty, alongside social and economic inequalities.

Dr Catherine Yelland, President, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians: “The opportunities that tackling climate change present to the health of Australians and globally are too urgent to be ignored.

“The RACP calls on the Commonwealth Government to commit to a National Climate and Health Strategy, including adaptation and mitigation targets, stronger research, and better disease monitoring.

Prof. Anthony Costello, Co-Chair of the Lancet Countdown and a Director at the World Health Organization : “Climate change is happening and it’s a health issue today for millions worldwide. The outlook is challenging, but we still have an opportunity to turn a looming medical emergency into the most significant advance for public health this century.

“As we move in the right direction, we hope for a step-change from governments to tackle the cause and impacts of climate change. We need urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The health and economic benefits on offer are huge. The cost of inaction will be counted in preventable loss of life, on a large scale.”

Prof. Hugh Montgomery, Co-Chair of the Lancet Countdown and Director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance, University College London: “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.”

Christiana Figueres, Chair of the Lancet Countdown’s High-Level Advisory Board and former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: “The Lancet Countdown’s report lays bare the impact that climate change is having on our health today. It also shows that tackling climate change directly, unequivocally and immediately improves global health. It’s as simple as that.

“Most countries did not embrace these opportunities when they developed their climate plans for the Paris Agreement. We must do better. When a doctor tells us we need to take better care of our health we pay attention and it’s important that governments do the same.”

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