Climate change a medical emergency

23rd June 2015

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Diane Scott

The threat to human health from climate change is so great that it could undermine gains in development and global health over the past 50 years, according to a report published today in the Lancet.

The health risk from increasingly frequent and intense heatwaves, droughts and storms, as well as indirect effects such as air pollution and food insecurity has been underestimated, the report authors believe.

But, while the technologies and finance needed to address the problem are available, global political will to implement them is lacking, they said.

“Climate change is a medical emergency,” said professor Hugh Montgomery, director of the institute for human health and performance at University College London (UCL), and co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, which produced the report. “It thus demands an emergency response, using the technologies available right now.”

He compared the global response to climate change to a series of annual case discussions and aspirations, which he said no doctor would consider adequate under the circumstances.

The commission’s other co-chair, professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL institute for global health, said that climate change has the potential to reverse the health gains made through economic development in recent decades. The health threat comes not just from direct effects on the climate, but through indirect means, such as increased migration and reduced social stability, he added.

However, the authors claim that concerted global efforts to tackle climate change represent one of the greatest opportunities to improve global health this century. Burning fewer fossil fuels reduces respiratory diseases, while walking and cycling would cut pollution and road accidents, and reduce rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, they said.

The commission is a collaboration between scientists from UCL, Tsinghua University in China, the University of Exeter, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Umeå University in Sweden with expertise on subjects, including climate change, energy policy, health, engineering and biodiversity. It is a follow-up to a report by UCL on health and climate change published in 2009.


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