Heatwaves pose increasing global health risk, say scientists

Christopher Davidson
December 1, 2018

"At a time when national health budgets and health services face a growing epidemic of lifestyle diseases, continued delay in unlocking the potential health benefits of climate change mitigation is short-sighted and damaging for human health", Rocklov said.

"The attribution shows that unfortunately an approach targeting a single sector or fuel won't solve the problem - air pollution is a multi-faceted issue that needs integrated strategies cutting across many sectors, which will differ from country to country".

It also takes a unique look at the impact climate change can have on mental health, noting a link between an increasing number of suicides and rising temperatures in recent years.

It involves 27 leading academic institutions, the United Nations, and intergovernmental agencies from every continent, drawing on expertise from climate scientists, ecologists, mathematicians, geographers, engineers, energy, food, livestock, and transport experts, economists, social and political scientists, public health professionals, and doctors.

"Examples include the persistence of a very high carbon-intensive energy system in Australia, and its slow transition to renewables and low carbon electricity generation", the co-leader added.

"That's the thing that really keeps me up at night", said Nick Watts, executive director of The Lancet Countdown, an annual report tracking connections between public health and climate change.

The report goes on explain that warmer climates are also responsible for spread of microbes and infections leading to outbreaks and epidemics.

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Access to the Champs-Elysee avenue was closed to cars and strictly monitored by police with identity checks and bag inspections. Police responded by firing bursts from a water cannon with backup from riot officers, who used tear gas on the protesters.

India also lost almost 75,000 million labour hours in 2017 (equivalent to a year's work for 7% of the working population), compared to about 43,000 million hours in 2000, an increase of more than 30,000 million labour hours lost in less than two decades.

Professor Bambrick looked at health adaptation planning by all levels of government in Australia, regional migration and population displacement, media reporting trends and climate sensitive diseases. "We've long known that the scope of medicine extends outside the exam room, but this report calls on doctors to recognize that it extends to our climate", she said.

The authors write, "A rapidly changing climate has dire implications for every aspect of human life, exposing vulnerable populations to extremes of weather, altering patterns of infectious disease, and compromising food security, safe drinking water and clean air". "We can not sleepwalk through this health emergency any longer".

Climate change is a global health crisis. "We think of these as the canary in, ironically, the coalmine".

Mental health threats, meanwhile - from children anxious about their future in an overheating world to families stressed by disaster losses - are on the rise, she said. But the report also stresses that there are limits to adapting to the temperature increases, and if left unabated, climate change and heat will overwhelm even the strongest of systems, so the need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical.

In 2017, 157 million vulnerable people were exposed to heatwaves globally, and 153 billion hours of labour were lost due to heat exposure. In China, workers are paid high-temperature subsidies (HTSs) for each day in extreme heat, this cost is projected to reach 250 billion yuan per year in the 2030s, and increase to 1000 billion yuan per year in 2100.

Days before officials gather in Poland for talks aimed at finalising the Paris agreement climate goals, the authors said governments were failing their populations by underfunding core health infrastructure to protect against extreme weather.

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