Climate change is not just an environmental issue but a burgeoning health crisis, according to a comprehensive new report published in The Lancet. Scientists warn that without immediate and substantial cuts to global emissions, the world faces a ‘dangerous future’ with skyrocketing heat-related deaths and worsening food insecurity, particularly in developing nations.
The annual Lancet Countdown report, a collaboration between University College London and over 100 experts from 52 institutions, projects a grim outlook if the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature limit set by the Paris Agreement is exceeded. The research highlights a potential 370% increase in heat-related deaths by mid-century and a significant rise in labor loss due to heat exposure.
“These impacts that we are seeing today could be just an early symptom of a very dangerous future unless we tackle climate change urgently,” said Marina Romanello, the executive director of the Lancet Countdown at University College London.
One of the report’s alarming findings is the 85% increase in heat-related deaths among people over 65 since the 1990s. This demographic, along with infants, is particularly vulnerable to extreme temperatures. In fact, exposure to heat waves has doubled for these groups since 1986-2005.
“In 2022, an estimated 23,200 older Americans died because of exposure to extreme heat,” notes Dr. Renee Salas, an emergency medicine physician and co-author of the report.
Moreover, the report underscores the disproportionate impact on poorer countries, often the least responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. “People living in poorer countries are bearing the brunt of the health impacts,” remarked Georgiana Gordon-Strachan, an epidemiology professor at the University of the West Indies.
The health implications are vast, extending to income losses and food insecurity. In 2022, heat exposure may have led to income losses of approximately $863 billion globally. Additionally, an estimated 127 million more people experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2021 compared to the 1981-2010 period.
The report’s findings are a stark reminder of the interconnectedness of climate change and public health, urging immediate action and adaptation strategies. The upcoming United Nations climate summit in the United Arab Emirates is expected to address these issues, focusing significantly on human health.
“The diagnosis in this report is very clear,” Dr. Salas added. “Further expansion of fossil fuels is reckless, and the data clearly shows that it threatens the health and well-being of every person.”