With the expected rise in temperatures set to continue, public health is threatened by more frequent extreme-weather events, such as the summer 2003 heat wave, which killed 35,000 people across Europe.

"Climate change has several health impacts," said Tanja Wolf, from the World Health Organization's Regional Office for Europe, adding that 0.3%-0.4% of the global burden of disease and death, in 2000, could be attributed to this "man-made disease".

According to her, poor nutrition, diarrhoea and malaria are in particular "highly climate-sensitive diseases". Speaking during a Green Week session on 'Future Scenarios for Human Health and the Environment' on 13 June 2007, she explained that the health impacts of climate change include, for example, increased cardiovascular diseases caused by air pollution, and malnutrition resulting from food and water shortages.

Others include extreme weather-related health effects, temperature-related illness and deaths as well as water and food-carried diseases. For example, "shrinking and backing of the 'freeze line' in China brings...new bacteria that can cause conditions such as diarrhoea," illustrated Wolf. The 2003 European heat wave led to health crises in many countries, killing some 35, 000 people. Combined with drought, it also caused a crop shortfall in southern Europe.

"We will have more heat waves and at some point these might come together with water scarcity. The problem is that we don't have any lessons learned for these new challenges," Wolf said. She urged "protecting health while reducing CO2 emissions", which are the major cause of climate change, and argued that the key for this is changing citizens' habits and consumer behaviour towards "healthier energy and transport options".

"It is not about choosing health or environment as actions for health are usually good for the environment as well, such as choosing a bicycle instead of a car for short journeys, or ensuring the proper isolation of buildings so that they consume less energy," she added.

A recent (April 2007) assessment report by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that "projected climate-change related exposures are likely to affect the health status of millions of people, particularly those with low adaptive capacity"


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