Climate change and Health
Justine Le Lez
In September 2015, the United Nations Assembly passed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Goal 13 concerns climate change: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” (UN, 2015). According to a report published by The Lancet in June 2015, “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century”. (Watts et al., 2015). In this paper, we will discuss the relationship between Climate change and health based on two main reports: the Lancet Commission of 2015 and the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of 2014.
Since industrialization, the level of CO2 emissions, one of the major greenhouse gases (GHG), has risen steeply. Scientists have been working on projections and multiple scenarios are being predicted, depending on how policy-makers will handle the situation. One of the objectives of the Lancet commission was to “map out the impacts of climate change and the necessary policy responses in order to ensure the highest attainable standards of health for population worldwide.” (Watts et al., 2015). 195 countries gathered in Paris last December during the Conference Of Parties on 21 (COP 21) and lead to a historical agreement to tackle this on-going issue. One of the key measures is to keep the global average temperature rise less than 2°C, or possibly even less than 1.5°C (UNFCCC, 2015).
IPCC reports well describe the process of climate change and how it can lead to adverse health outcomes. The rise of greenhouse gases emissions in the atmosphere since the 1850s is without any doubt the cause of human activities, according to an IPCC’s 2014 report. This has a direct effect on the temperature on Earth, both on land and on the oceans. Oceans are getting sour and hotter, leading to reduce fishery productivity and, as a matter of fact, under-nutrition, especially for people from low and middle-income countries living near the coast. Also, this under-nutrition could also be a consequence of reduced agriculture due to droughts. It would be too complicated to go through all the different causal links between GHG, climate change and health. I invite you to read the several reports of IPCC for more information.
Health impacts are both direct and indirect. For example, effects of heat waves can be directly seen especially in vulnerable populations (children, the elderly…) whereas changing patterns of diseases is an indirect effect of climate change. (Watts et al., 2015). According to the IPCC 2014 report, under-nutrition, mental health impacts, cardiovascular diseases; respiratory diseases, harmful algal blooms and vector-borne diseases are the biggest health impacts affected by climate change. Nevertheless, the social burden induced should not be forgotten: increase of poverty, mass migration, violent conflict or other social determinants of health.
Climate change and health outcomes are intertwined and as a matter of fact, actions on improving the climate can have direct potential benefits health. This phenomenon is called co-benefits on health: riding a bike to work instead of using your car is better for both the environment and your fitness. Another good example is the use of clean cooking stoves and fuels that would lead to a decrease in black carbon emissions and household air pollution, which is considered as a “major killer in low-income countries”. (Watts et al., 2015)
Climate change is happening now, and it is a global problem. It is important for us, future public health professionals, to understand that climate change is an ongoing problem and pose a direct threat on our health and well-being. Considering the large-scale consequences of this problem, it is imperative for us to act now and be a part of this movement on climate change in our own capacities and our little ways. So start riding you bike!
- Conference of the Parties, C. (2015, December 12). Conference of the Parties Twenty first session ADOPTION OF THE PARIS AGREEMENT. Retrieved January, 10, 2016 from https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf
- IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.
- Sustainable Development Goals :. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. (2015.). Retrieved January,10, 2016 from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300
- Watts, N., Adger, W. N., Agnolucci, P., Blackstock, J., Byass, P., Cai, W., … Costello, A. (2015). Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. The Lancet, 386(10006), 1861–1914. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60854-6