A major report just released concludes that “climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. The report, compiled by researchers at The Lancet medical journal and the Institute for Global Health at University College, London, says that “Even the most conservative estimates are profoundly disturbing and demand action”.
Lead author, Professor Anthony Costello, says “The big message of this report is that climate change is a health issue affecting billions of people, not just an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation. The impacts will be felt not just in the UK, but all around the world – and not just in some distant future, but in our lifetimes and those of our children.”
The report goes on to say that current evidence suggests the forecasts by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in 2007 may be too conservative. Positive feedback loops and possible ‘tipping points‘ in the climate system could mean that the target of limiting future global warming to 2°C is unlikely to be achieved. Global temperature rises above the ‘safe’ threshold of 2°C may lead to abrupt, severe and irreversible changes in climate, and the worst case scenario of a 5-6°C rise would be catastrophic, they say.
The direct and indirect effects of global warming that will have a major impact on human health include changing patterns of infection and insect-borne disease, heat waves, water shortages, malnutrition, large scale migration and inadequate living conditions, as well as extreme weather events such as hurricanes. The poorest people in the world, who have contributed least to carbon emissions, will be worst affected.
Professor Hugh Montgomery, one of the report’s authors, warns that the impact of heatwaves, flooding and global food shortages will be felt in Britain too “This is an immediate danger. It is going to affect you and it will certainly affect your children. While there is the injustice that the poorest will be worst affected, you will be affected too”.
The report says “In terms of our well-being, in terms of our survival over the next 100 years, it is absolutely the top political issue that we should be talking about”. The authors call for international institutions and governments to do more to address the problem, with an accelerated drive against world poverty and new technological approaches to preserve food and water supplies and prevent disease.
They also ask for a “stronger engagement by all individuals in the social and political aspects of moving to low-carbon living”.
For more information go to http://www.thelancet.com/climate-change