Climate change is on track to kill 250,000 people per year between 2030 and 2050 and undo 50 years of public health gains, a team of more than 40 European and Chinese researchers concludes in a commission report published in the prestigious UK medical journal, The Lancet.
“The effects of climate change are being felt today, and future projections represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health,” the report states. “The direct effects of climate change include increased heat stress, floods, drought, and increased frequency of intense storms, with the indirect threatening population health through adverse changes in air pollution, the spread of disease, food insecurity and under-nutrition, displacement, and mental ill health.”
“Given the potential of climate change to reverse the health gains from economic development,” the authors conclude, “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of this century.”
Health professionals have worked hard against other health threats, from tobacco to HIV/AIDS to polio, and “must be leaders in responding to the health threat of climate change,” the report states. “Many mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change are ‘no-regret’ options, which lead to direct reductions in the burden of ill-health, enhance community resilience, alleviate poverty, and address global inequity.”
They added that “many of the 2,200 coal-fired plants currently proposed for construction globally will damage health unless replaced with cleaner energy alternatives.”