Climate change affects human health and disease in many ways and there’s a critical need to recognise and understand these interlinkages, so that appropriate and urgent action is taken to address associated risks and opportunities to build resilience. Of utmost importance, is a strong climate agreement – which is expected as the key outcome of COP21 in Paris this December. The COP21 meetings are where world governments will decide on a long-term action plan on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Addressing climate change is necessary to enable progress on all of the Sustainable Development Goals – including health and wellbeing.
What are the human health and wellbeing benefits associated with mitigating and reducing climate change?
There are a myriad of opportunities and co-benefits associated with mitigating the effects of climate change. Those that relate to human heath and wellness include a reduction in risks, death and diseases associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution – which the WHO estimates is responsible for 7 million deaths each year. This would also translate into significant cost savings associated with averted deaths and diseases.
The health impacts of climate change are expected to affect poorer populations disproportionally, which presents an opportunity through mitigating climate change to avoid further inequities experienced by vulnerable groups and communities.
What role does climate change adaptation play in public health?
Climate change is also affecting global temperatures and weather, and is predicted to cause increasingly frequent heat waves and fires, more variable rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and increased risks of flooding. These impacts area already affecting human health through compromising the supply of freshwater, increasing risks of water-borne diseases, and risks associated with heat strokes and extreme weather events. Changing weather patterns also pose risks of changing distribution patterns of vector- and rodent-borne diseases like Malaria and Dengue Fever.
Changes in weather and climate also bring changes in agricultural conditions that can have food security impacts including under-nutrition, lack of access to food and increased food prices. The environmental impacts of climate change have the potential to damage and disrupt ecosystems and reduce their ability to provide important ecosystem services. These environmental pressures may in turn act as catalysts and drivers of forced migration and civil conflict over scare resources.
The WHO estimates that between 2030 and 2050, an additional 250 000 deaths each year will be caused by climate change.
Building climate-resilient health systems globally
It is critical that governments around the world start building climate-resilient health systems that address local challenges and priorities associated with climate change. For this to happen, awareness raising of the interlinkages between climate change and human health will be necessary with supporting policy frameworks and infrastructure, research, capacity building and financing. In an effort to help raise awareness of the important linkages between climate change and human health, Earth To Paris is hosting a discussion on 29 October 2015 (2-3 EST) on ‘Healthy Planet, Healthy People’ – join in using the hashtag #EarthToParis.