Climate change having increasingly dire impact on human health

The Lancet Countdown is an annual report tracking climate change and the impact it has on global human health.

It said that climate change is exacerbating food insecurity, health impacts from extreme heat, the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and life-threatening extreme weather events.

Furthermore, delay in the adoption of low-carbon energy sources has left households dependent on dirty fuels, vulnerable to energy poverty and exposed to dangerous levels of fuel-derived air pollution.

Governments continue to subsidise fossil fuels to a sum of hundreds of billions of dollars annually – sums that are often comparable to their total health budgets, the report found.

“The world faces a critical juncture,” it said. “A health-centred, aligned response to the compounding crises can still deliver a future where people can not only survive, but thrive.”

Last year, the International Energy Agency warned that the world’s pathway to reaching net-zero carbon by 2050 is narrowing and would not be reached without an “unprecedented transformation” of how energy is produced, transported and used globally.

Warnings were issued over the summer in the UK, as it faced record-breaking heatwaves, that overheating in homes could eventually lead to a tripling in heat-related deaths.

But decision makers can today still deliver more resilient energy systems, “saving at least 1.2 million lives from cleaner air, 11.5 million lives from healthier diets, reducing energy poverty, and delivering healthier, more liveable cities”, the Lancet Countdown said.

Dr Marina Romanello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown at the University College London (UCL), said: “We see how climate change is driving severe health impacts all around the world, while the persistent global fossil fuel dependence compounds these health harms amidst multiple global crises, keeping households vulnerable to volatile fossil fuel markets, exposed to energy poverty, and dangerous levels of air pollution.

“Despite the challenges, there is clear evidence that immediate action could still save the lives of millions, with a rapid shift to clean energy and energy efficiency.

“Accelerated climate action would deliver cascading benefits, with more resilient health, food and energy systems.”

Professor Paul Ekins, from UCL added: “Current strategies from many governments and companies will lock the world into a fatally warmer future, tying us to the use of fossil fuels that are rapidly closing off prospects for a liveable world.

“This is a result of a deep failure to recognise the need for an urgent reprioritisation of funding to secure a zero-carbon, affordable and healthy future.”