A new report in The Lancet medical journal titled The Lancet Countdown: tracking progress on health and climate change warns that climate change is already exposing humanity to a number of serious health risks. Furthermore, according to the report ambient air pollution has already caused several million premature deaths.
Leading doctors, analysts and policy professionals from 27 organizations, including the Institu te for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), World Bank and World Health Organization have contributed to the research and jointly authored the report.
It was found that the population in Europe and Eastern Mediterranean would be particularly vulnerable to rising temperatures because 42 and 43 percent of the urban population in these regions over the age of 65, respectively. In Africa, 38 percent are thought to be vulnerable and 34 percent in Asia.
In total, 157 million more vulnerable people had to suffer through heat waves in 2017 than in 2000. Additionally, 153 billion hours of work were lost in 2017 due to extreme heat. Heat stress was found to be commonplace, with most health systems around the world remaining unable to cope with the problem. China lost 21 billion hours, the equivalent of a year’s work for 1.4 percent of the country’s working population. India lost 75 billion hours, equivalent to seven percent of a year’s work for its total working population. Rising temperatures and unseasonal warmth were also found to be responsible for the spread of cholera and dengue fever, by increasing these diseases’ vectorial capacity to spread.
By calculating the emissions of precursors of particulate matter based on a detailed breakdown of economic sectors and fuel use, IIASA researchers reached the conclusion that 16 percent of pollution related deaths could be attributed to coal alone. The report has termed the phasing out of coal use a “crucial no-regret intervention for public health.”
The residential sector was found to be a significant contributor to ambient air pollution, mostly from solid fuel like biomass and coal. Industry, electricity generation, transport, and agriculture are also significant contributors.
The report stressed that urgent steps are needed to protect the global population from climate change. This includes stronger labour regulations and healthcare infrastructure better suited to dealing with problems associated with climate change. However, the report states there are limits to humanities adaptability. It warns that if left unchecked, climate change and heat will overwhelm even the strongest of systems. As such, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is critical.
“The world has yet to effectively cut its emissions. The speed of climate change threatens our, and our children’s lives. Following current trends we exhaust our carbon budget required to keep warming below two degrees, by 2032. The health impacts of climate change above this level above this level threaten to overwhelm our emergency and health services,” says Anthony Costello, co-chair of The Lancet Countdown.