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Climate change health impacts: ‘compounded and overwhelming’

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Lancet climate change report shows worsening health risks from heat and heatwaves, infectious diseases, and food security

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Lancet climate change report shows worsening health risks from heat and heatwaves, infectious diseases, and food security

The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change is an international research collaboration, led by Britain’s leading medical journal, The Lancet.

The most recent Countdown report, published November 29, 2018, says “present day changes in heat waves labor capacity, vector-borne disease, and food security provide early warning of compounded and overwhelming impacts expected if temperature continues to rise.”

Below — a Lancet video introducing the report, and a summary of the report’s key findings. The full report can be downloaded here (pdf. 3mb).


Climate Change Impacts, Exposures and Vulnerability

  • The vulnerability to heat exposure is rising in every WHO region. 42% and 43% of populations older than 65 years in Europe and East Mediterranean are vulnerable.
  • The mean global temperature change to which humans are exposed is more than double the global average change, with temperatures rising 0.8°C versus 0.3°C.
  • In 2017, an additional 157 million heatwave exposure events occurred globally, representing an increase of 18 million additional exposure events compared with 2016.
  • In 2017, 153 billion hours of labor (3.4 billion weeks of work) were lost, an increase of 62 billion hours lost relative to 2000.
  • Changes in extremes of precipitation exhibit clear regional trends, with South America and southeast Asia among the regions most exposed to flood and drought.
  • Annual frequencies of floods and extreme temperature events have increased since 1990, with no clear upward or downward trend in the lethality of these events.
  • Mortality from dengue fever and malignant skin melanoma is still rising in regions most susceptible to both diseases.
  • In 2016, global vectorial capacity of dengue was 9.1% (aedypti) and 11.1% ( albopictus) above the 1950s baseline. Coastal areas suitable for Vibrio infections in the Baltic and US northeast increased by 24% and 27% from the 1980s. The environmental suitability for Plasmodium falciparum has increased by 20.9% in highland areas of Africa since the 1950s.
  • 30 countries are experiencing downward trends in crop yields, reversing a decade-long trend that had previously seen global improvement.
  • Sea surface temperatures have risen in 16 of 21 fishing basins with threats to marine primary productivity expected to follow.
  • Climate change is the sole contributing factor for thousands of people deciding to migrate and is a powerful contributing factor for many more migration decisions worldwide.

Adaptation Planning and Resilience for Health

  • 30 out of 40 responding countries have a national health adaptation plan. 10 out of 16 plans outlined measures to address specific health impacts.
  • 51% of global cities who have completed a climate change risk assessment expect climate change to seriously compromise public health infrastructure.
  • Despite a previous increase, a significant decline in national capacities relevant to climate adaptation and resilience has been observed in most of the world regions in 2017.
  • Globally there has been a 28% fall in vulnerability to mosquito-borne diseases from 2010 to 2016.
  • The national meteorological and hydrological services of 53 countries report providing climate services to the health sector.
  • Over two thirds of responding countries had conducted a national assessment of climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation for health.
  • Globally, spending on adaptation for health is 4.8% and health-related spending is 15.2% of all adaptation spending.
  • There was just US $472 million of adaptation funding for development in 2017 and only 3.8% was allocated for health adaptation.

Mitigation Actions and Health Co-Benefits

  • Globally, the carbon intensity of total primary energy supply (TPES) has remained static since 1990.
  • Between 2016 and 2017 the amount of additional coal capacity planned for construction halved. However, preliminary data suggests it may have increased slightly in 2017.
  • In 2017, 157 GW of renewable energy was installed compared to 70 GW (net) of fossil fuel capacity installation.
  • People without electricity fell from 1.7 billion in 2000 to 1.1 billion in 2016. However over 8 billion people are without clean sustainable cooking fuel or technologies, the same as 2000.
  • From 2010 to 2016, air pollution has worsened in almost 70% of cities, particularly in LMICs.
  • In 2015, ambient air pollution resulted in more than 2·9 million premature deaths globally from fine particulates alone. Coal is responsible for 460,000 of these deaths.
  • From 2013 to 2015 global transport fuel use has increased 2% but growth in non-fossil fuels rose by 10%.
  • Cycling comprised of less than 7% of total modal share of global cities sampled from the Sustainable Healthy Urban Environments database.
  • Globally, the amount of ruminant meat available for human consumption worldwide has decreased slightly from 19 kg per capita per year in 1990, to 11.23 kg per capita per year in 2013.
  • Several health-care systems in the UK, the USA, Australia, and around the world are working to measure and reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions.

Finance and Economics

  • In 2017, a total of 712 events resulted in $326 billion in overall economic losses, with 99% of losses in low-income countries remaining uninsured. This is almost triple the total economic losses of 2016.
  • In 2017, energy and energy efficiency decreased as a proportion of total energy-system investment, whereas the proportion of fossil fuels increased.
  • Investment in new coal capacity reduced substantially in 2017, reaching its lowest level in at least 10 years.
  • In 2017, renewable energy provided 10.3 million jobs – a 5.7% increase from 2016. But fossil fuel extraction industries increased to 11 million – an 8% increase from 2016.
  • In 2017, the global value of funds committed to fossil fuel divestment was $428 billion, of which health institutions accounted for $3.28 billion. This represents a cumulative sum of $5.88 trillion, with health institutions accounting for $33.6 billion.
  • In 2016, fossil fuel consumption subsidies decreased to $267 billion – a 15% reduction on 2015 levels.
  • Carbon pricing instruments in early 2018 cover 13.1% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions, but average prices are around 20% higher than experienced in 2017.
  • Revenues from carbon pricing instruments increased 50% between 2016 and 2017, reaching $33 billion, with $14.5 billion allocated to further climate change mitigation activities.

Public and Political Engagement

  • Coverage of health and climate change in the media increased substantially between 2007, and 2017, a trend evident in both the global and in-depth analysis of leading global newspapers.
  • Coverage of health and climate change increased by 182% in scientific journals between 2007 and 2017.
  • From 2007 to 2017, national statements in the UN General Debate have increasingly linked climate change and health, although there has been a decline since 2014.
  • Engagement with health and climate change has remained limited among companies within the UN Global Compact.

1 Comment

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