Climate change and health

Summary of climate change and health impacts: Presenting the outcome of the Lancet Commission’s Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health, 22 June 2015

“Tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”

The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change is mapping out the impacts and policies of climate change to guarantee the highest standards of health for populations worldwide.

The latest report considers climate change and health impacts and presents the considered responsibilities of governments and healthcare professionals to act.

The effects of climate change are being felt today, and future projections represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health

The direct climate change and health impacts are considered to be:

  • increased heat stress
  • floods
  • drought
  • increased frequency of intense storms
  • adverse changes in air pollution
  • spread of disease vectors
  • food insecurity and under-nutrition
  • displacement
  • mental ill health.

The opportunity:

Tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century: Many acts to limit climate change and health impacts are positive, with little risk and “no regrets”, directly reducing in the burden of ill-health, enhancing community resilience, alleviating poverty, and addressing global inequity. A focus on limiting climate change and health impacts will also reduce pressures on national health budgets, delivering potentially large cost savings, and enabling investments in stronger, more resilient health systems.

To help drive a transition, the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change will develop a new, independent Countdown to 2030: Global Health and Climate Action, to provide expertise in implementing policies that mitigate climate change health impacts, and monitor progress over the next 15 years.

The commission considers the following to be the government’s key responsibilities:

The Commission calls for bold political commitment and engagement from the health community to prevent further climate change.  The commission considers that healthcare professions should act as the leaders in responding to threat of climate change. The commission recommends that over the next 5 years, governments limit climate change and health impacts by:

1. Invest in understanding mitigation and adaptation: Ensuring quality research into climate change and public health, monitoring, and surveillance.
2. Reduce the environmental impact of health care globally: Scaling-up financing for climate resilient health systems world-wide. Donor countries have a responsibility to support health systems in low-income and middle-income countries.
3. Phase out coal from the global energy mix: Coal-fired plants will damage health unless replaced with cleaner energy alternatives. Countries should protect cardiovascular and respiratory health by ensuring a phase out of coal. As part of the transition to renewable energy, it is considered that there will be a cautious transitional role for natural gas.
4. Develop cities that support and promote healthy lifestyles: Steps to achieve this include development of a highly energy efficient building stock; ease of low-cost active transportation; and increased access to green spaces. Such measures improve adaptive capacity, whilst also reducing urban pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, mental illness, and respiratory disease.
5. Carbon pricing: Establishing the framework for a strong, predictable, and international carbon pricing mechanism.
6. Promote health equality through renewable energy: Rapidly expand access to renewable energy in low-income and middle-income countries, thus providing reliable electricity for communities and health facilities.
7. Measuring and reporting on mitigation: Inclusive reporting which considers the avoided burden of disease, reduced health-care costs, and enhanced economic productivity associated with prevention of climate change and health impacts.
8. Government-wide collaboration: Ministries of Health and other government departments can empower health professionals and ensure that health and climate considerations are thoroughly integrated in government-wide strategies.
9. Responsibility shared: Developing an international agreement on achieving a low-carbon economy, with enforceable global mitigation targets, including protection of countries’ rights to sustainable development and minimise climate change and health impacts.

“When climate change is framed as a health issue, rather than purely as an environmental, economic, or technological challenge, it becomes clear that we are facing a predicament that strikes at the heart of humanity.”

– Helena Wang, Richard Horton, The Lancet, Beijing 100738, China (HW); and The Lancet, London, UK (RH)


The climate science:

  • The requirement: Global average temperature rise to be kept below 2°C
  • The reason: A rise over 2°C is likely to cause catastrophic climate change
  • The data: Total anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to be kept below 2900 billion tonnes (GtCO2) by the end of the century.
  • The current situation: As of 2011, total emissions since 1870 were a little over half of this
  • Projections: It is expected that business-as-usual will see CO2 exceed 2900 GtCO2 in the next 15–30 years, with the highest predictions seeing a temperature rise of 2·6–4·8°C by the end of the century, with regional fluctuations.
  • Other environmental change: Which also directly impact on human health include deforestation, biodiversity loss and ocean acidification

The full publication can be seen on the Lancet website page

 Article: Climate Change and Health