The bad news is very bad, indeed. But first, the good news: “Responding to climate change could be the biggest global health opportunity of this century.”
That message is the silver lining contained in a comprehensive newly published report by The Lancet, the UK-based medical journal, which explores the complex intersection between global human health and climate change.
“It took on entrenched interests such as the tobacco industry and led the fight against HIV/AIDS. Now is the time for us to lead the way in responding to another great threat to human and environmental health.”
— Prof. Peng Gong, Tsinghua University
The wide-ranging and peer-reviewed report—titled Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health—declares that the negative impacts of human-caused global warming have put at risk some of the world’s most impressive health gains over the last half century. What’s more, it says, continued use of fossil fuels is leading humanity to a future in which infectious disease patterns, air pollution, food insecurity and malnutrition, involuntary migration, displacement, and violent conflict will all be made made worse.
“Climate change,” said commission co-chairman Dr. Anthony Costello, a pediatrician and director of the Global Health Institute at the University College of London, “has the potential to reverse the health gains from economic development that have been made in recent decades – not just through the direct effects on health from a changing and more unstable climate, but through indirect means such as increased migration and reduced social stability. Our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate change we can also benefit health. Tackling climate change represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come.”
Put together by the newly formed Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change—described as a major new collaboration between international climate scientists and geographers, social and environmental scientists, biodiversity experts, engineers and energy policy experts, economists, political scientists and public policy experts, and health professionals—the report is the most up-to-date and comprehensive of its kind. Though many studies have been performed on the subject, the commission argues the “catastrophic risk to human health posed by climate change” has been grossly “underestimated” by others.
The four key findings of the report include: