USA — A recently released report from the Lancet Countdown, an annual evaluation of progress toward the climate targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement, has unveiled a troubling reality of increasing health risks due to a warming planet.
Compiled by 114 scientists, health experts, and researchers worldwide, the report paints a dire picture of the future, where climate-related health crises, including deadly heatwaves, food insecurity triggered by droughts, and the proliferation of infectious diseases, will become daily challenges for millions.
The report emphasizes the immediate necessity for decisive action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, highlighting the critical role of urgent measures to avert the worst consequences of climate change on human health.
If global warming reaches 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the report warns of an “intolerable future with rapidly growing hazards” to human health. Already, extreme heat is contributing to higher mortality rates and increased food insecurity globally.
The report reveals an 85% increase in heat-related deaths of individuals over 65 since 1990, with the average person now enduring 86 days of “health-threatening high temperatures” annually, 60% of which are attributable to climate change.
Dr. Marina Romanello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown and lead author of the report, notes that extreme heat poses significant dangers, particularly for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, individuals with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, young children, and those with neurological conditions.
The intensification of heatwaves is also exacerbating food insecurity, with an estimated 127 million more people experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity compared to the 1981-2010 period.
This places millions at risk of malnutrition and irreversible health effects, as evidenced by a devastating drought in Somalia that claimed 43,000 lives, half of them children under five, and pushed 1.4 million children into acute malnutrition.
The report underscores climate change’s contribution to the rise of infectious vector-borne diseases like Dengue and West Nile Virus, making populations more vulnerable to diseases and providing a conducive environment for disease-carrying mosquitoes to thrive.
Warmer temperatures extend the geographical range and mating season of disease-borne mosquitoes, amplifying the risk.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), declares, “The climate crisis is escalating the severity of extreme weather events, increasing food insecurity, exacerbating respiratory diseases, and fueling the spread of infectious diseases.”
He laments the world’s failure to curb fossil fuel addiction, hindering the much-needed transition to cleaner energy.
The report echoes the UN Environment Programme’s Adaptation Gap report, which revealed that financial support for climate adaptation in developing countries fell to US$21 billion in 2022, far short of the required US$367 billion annually through 2030.
This lack of funding and technical capacity exacerbates health inequities within and between nations, leaving vulnerable communities ill-prepared to cope with climate-related health risks.
Despite the global shift towards green energy technologies, the Lancet report highlights that developing countries, most affected by climate change, are largely excluded from this transition due to inadequate financial support.
While renewable energy is gaining ground globally, low Human Development Index (HDI) countries still rely on fossil fuels for 92% of their domestic energy.
The report warns that if fossil fuel expansion continues, global warming could reach a perilous 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
The health implications of such a scenario are profound, with heat-related deaths projected to surge by 370%, heat-related labor loss by 50%, and 524.9 million more people facing moderate to severe food insecurity.
The health threats posed by fossil fuel burning are exacerbated by government subsidies and a rising trend in agricultural emissions.
The finance sector’s role in perpetuating the crisis is evident, with average annual lending to the fossil fuel sector increasing from US$549 billion in 2010-16 to US$572 billion in 2017-21.
Despite growing evidence of the climate crisis, the world remains significantly off track to meet emission reduction targets.
In light of these findings, the Lancet Countdown report calls for urgent and comprehensive action to address the escalating health risks associated with climate change.
The report emphasizes the interconnectedness of climate action, health, and equity, urging a holistic approach to safeguarding the well-being of present and future generations.