The Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change was set up this year, with academic collaboration across Europe and China, to assess policy responses needed to ensure the best possible population-wide health status in the face of climate change. Extreme weather could threaten health through food insecurity, under-nutrition, population displacement, the spread of disease and air pollution, the Commission said – adding that potential effects on human health have been widely underestimated.
A large majority of the world’s governments have set a goal that global temperatures should not rise more than 2°C to avoid potentially catastrophic climate change, but projections based on current trends suggest temperatures could rise by around 4°C by the end of the century.
“Climate change has the potential to reverse the health gains from economic development that have been made in recent decades,” said Commission co-chair Professor Anthony Costello, director of the University College London (UCL) Institute for Global Health.
“However, our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate change, we can also benefit health, and tackling climate change if fact represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come.”
The report’s authors argue that moving away from fossil fuels and switching to walking and cycling could help cut rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, while more climate-friendly dietary choices, like eating less red meat, could have additional health benefits.
“Climate Change is a medical emergency,” said Commission co-chair Professor Hugh Montgomery, director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance. “It thus demands an emergency response, using the technologies available right now.”
Changing weather patterns and water scarcity are likely to have a substantial impact on food security, the report said, affecting food prices and availability.
“This effect is amplified by polices on food stocks, reactions to food prices by producer countries, and by the global demand for land to hedge against climate shifts,” it said. “The increased volatility of the global food system under climate change has impacts on labour, on farmer livelihoods and on consumers of food, with attendant health outcomes for all these groups.”
The Commission has recommended setting up a global independent body on climate change to monitor and report on health impacts, and to implement policies for sustainable health systems.