Journey of Climate Change: Impact on human health

Published: July 10, 2020 6:02 PM

For global warming, scientists claim that it is vital to hold the temperature increase to about 1.5 degrees vis a vis, the globe would need to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

The risks and impacts of climate change, as well as the capacity to respond to it, vary considerably among countries. The risks and impacts of climate change, as well as the capacity to respond to it, vary considerably among countries. (Representative image)

By Avinash Kumar

Climate change inherently involves a historical perspective. It has been associated with the historical collapse of civilizations, cities, and dynasties. The Harappa and Indus civilizations were affected by drought 4,500–3,500 years ago. A decline in rainfall in the Middle East and Northern India 3,800–2,500 years ago is likely to have affected the Hittites and Ancient Egypt. Human-started fires have been implicated in the transformation of much of Australia from grassland to desert. If true, this would show that non-industrialized societies could have a role in influencing regional climate. Deforestation, desertification, and the salinization of soils may have contributed to or caused other climatic changes throughout human history.

Climate change: Risks and impact

The risks and impacts of climate change, as well as the capacity to respond to it, vary considerably among countries. The baseline health status of a country, or a community, is the single largest determinant of the likely impact of climate change and the cost of adapting to it, according to the World Bank, 2010. In earlier times, climate change and human health generally assessed risk in qualitative terms. Climate change was anticipated to affect health impacts of temperature from heat waves, the distribution of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, respiratory disease from allergens, and food supply, among other factors affecting health outcomes. Almost a century ago, American Journal of Public health also published an article noting the influence of climate on smallpox epidemics. Today, there is growing interest in climate change’s effect on human health and acknowledgment of its link to other topics, such as environmental justice, risk analysis, risk perception, data analytics, and public policy.

Effects of climate change on health

In recent times, our knowledge regarding the effects of climate on health has benefited from advancements in our understanding of the relationships between the environment and health, global climate modelling and approaches to downscale estimates to regional and local study areas, and our understanding of the social, cultural, and political factors that shape our environment and our health. Moves such as flood protection and building different kinds of structures are being talked about. For global warming, scientists claim that it is vital to hold the temperature increase to about 1.5 degrees vis a vis, the globe would need to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. But are we doing enough? Furthermore, we should not forget that corporate climate-related initiatives are largely treated as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. We might have noticed progress, but we have serious gaps and a lot remains to be done.

So historically we started seeing flood, droughts, fires and then in industrialised world we saw increase in CO2 and methane levels which lead to rise in greenhouse gases and earth temperature which ultimately gave rise to sustainable reporting framework and new terminology to fight climate change like Environment Social Governance (ESG) and Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). Overall, we have come a long way in the last 100 to 200 years.

Parallelly, in terms of health we have overcome diseases like chickenpox, tuberculosis, malaria, polio and many more. While working on a climate resilient health system until now and when humans were ready to embrace their supremacy on health, we are facing pandemic COVID-19 which made us realize that strategy framework for dealing with climate change physical risks and transition risks or upgrading health networks cannot be seen in isolation. We cannot promise a panacea, today.

The author is columnist, Principal Consultant, ERM. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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