Climate change and health
Climate change-the biggest health threat facing humanity
Climate change poses the greatest health threat to humanity, and the world’s health professionals are already addressing the health damage caused by this unfolding crisis.
The Intergovernmental Panel on climate change (IPCC) has concluded that to prevent catastrophic health impacts and millions of climate change-related deaths, the world needs to limit temperature rises to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. As a result of previous emissions, global temperature rises to a certain level and other climate changes are inevitable. But global warming even by 1.5 degrees Celsius is not considered safe; every extra tenth of the degree of global warming will seriously damage people’s lives and health.
Although no one is immune from these risks, the first people whose health is worst affected by the climate crisis are those who contribute least to its causes, and those who are least able to protect themselves and their families from such harms – people in low-income and disadvantaged countries and communities.
The climate crisis threatens to undermine the progress made over the last fifty years in the areas of development, global health and poverty reduction, as well as to further widen health disparities among and among population groups. They have a negative impact on the achievement of universal health coverage in a variety of ways-including by complicating the current burden of disease and exacerbating barriers to access, often at times of greatest need. More than 930 million people-about 12% of the world’s population-spend at least 10% of their household budget to cover health care costs. Since most of the poorest do not have access to medical insurance, health shocks and pressures are already pushing some 100 million people into poverty each year, with this trend exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
Risks of climate change to health
Climate change is already affecting health in many ways, including causing death and disease as a result of increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms, floods, disruption of food systems, an increase in zoonotic and food, water and vector-borne diseases, and mental health problems. In addition, climate change undermines many social determinants of good health, such as livelihoods, equality, access to health care and social support structures. The risks of climate change affect the health of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, including women, children, ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants or displaced persons and the elderly, individuals with underlying health conditions.
Although climate change has a clear impact on human health, it remains difficult to accurately estimate the magnitude and impact of many climate change risks on health. However, scientific advances allow us to gradually attribute the increase in morbidity and mortality to anthropogenic warming and to more accurately determine the risks and scope of these health threats.
In the short and medium term, the effects of climate change on health will depend primarily on the vulnerability and ability of populations to adapt to the current rate of climate change, and the extent and speed of adaptation. In the longer term, impacts will increasingly depend on immediate, transformative action to reduce emissions and avoid dangerous temperature thresholds and potentially irreversible critical points.