A new Lancet study on the health costs of climate change should jolt the world into action
The recently released Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change spells out the impact of global warming on health in stark terms. There was a >10% increase in the vulnerability to heatwaves between 2000 and 2017, with 157 million more people exposed to heatwave events in 2017. For workers and their families, 153 billion hours of labour were lost in 2017 because of the heatwaves, an increase of more than 62 billion hours since 2000. In 2017, a total of 712 extreme weather events resulted in $326 billion in economic losses, almost triple the total losses of 2016. Climate change has also increased the potential for the spread of devastating diseases such as dengue and cholera. The Lancet study contained a proxy of agricultural yield potential that showed showed declines in every region due to adverse climate change effects.
Efforts on mitigating such harmful effects have stagnated at best, and declined at the worst. Globally, the $100-billion funding for such efforts that was agreed upon by participating countries in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has not taken off—and only 3.8% of this amount is actually dedicated towards human health. A third of the Earth’s population is still without clean and sustainable cooking fuel and people in more than 90% of the world’s cities are breathing air that is toxic. However, coal use continues to decline and more renewable energy capacity was installed in 2017 than fossil-fuels based capacity. The attention being given to climate change and its harmful impact are also receiving more coverage from the media and academic journals have substantially increased publishing on climate change-related research between 2007 and 2017. More concerted action needs to be taken to reverse the debilitating effects of climate change and to achieve the goal of keeping global warming under 1.5oC from the pre-industrial levels, as per a IPCC report released last month. Greater institutional and leadership support, more funds and more accountability for beneficial action has to be created for the climate change mitigation efforts to pick up steam and bear fruit.