Acute

Here’s why the climate crisis is a health crisis

By - Integrated Care Journal

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The world has warmed by 1.2°C already compared to pre-industrial levels. Though the result of multiple forces, climate change is both a risk multiplier and a root cause of various health crises from eco-anxiety to respiratory conditions caused by air pollution and nutritional soil depletion, to an increased risk of infectious diseases.

With very high confidence, the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) noted that human health is both directly and indirectly sensitive to aspects of climate change, such as shifts in weather patterns. Directly, with a rise in temperature for example, we could witness an increase in water scarcity and malnutrition, particularly among children.

In addition, indirect health impacts include an increase in disease transmission, alterations in human behavior, and a reduced capacity of health and social care infrastructure capacity. These examples demonstrate that environmental and human systems are inextricably linked and therefore responses to the climate crisis and health crises must utilise, as opposed to damage, these connections.

Health impacts of climate change can be witnessed around the world: the development of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions as a result of record-level heatwaves in Australia, mental health effects and undernutrition experienced following droughts in Ethiopia, and the ongoing spread of dengue fever across the continent of South America.

In response, the global recognition of the relationship and interlinkages between climate change and health outcomes has grown significantly in recent years; particularly following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which, contrary to the prior Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework, acknowledge a connection between climate change and health. This growth in recognition has been witnessed in three areas. Firstly, media coverage of climate change and health increased by 96 per cent between 2018 and 2019, surpassing the overall increase in coverage of climate change.

Secondly, inclusion of the topic of climate change and health has increased within public statements and international resolutions from organisations and governments. This includes the African Union, the United Nations Security Council, and notably the World Health Organization (WHO) conference on climate change and health held in 2013 which was attended by hundreds of global delegates. Finally, private sector actors have begun analysing and publishing insights into related climate change and health impacts.

Reducing the impact of climate change on health outcomes requires effective and socially equitable policy, technological innovation, and appropriate interventions in order to develop population resilience, increase adaptive capacity, and mitigate greenhouse gases and pollution.

This process of change can and must begin with the health-care sector which, globally in 2017, was responsible for 4.6 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, while there are risks, there are also numerous opportunities within this process. For example, low-carbon hospitals can benefit from the advancements made in the energy sector in developing cleaner and renewable resources.

In the UK specifically, the NHS has declared an ambition to reach net-zero as soon as possible. This builds on progress made so far in the last decade, such as reducing delivery of care emissions by 57 per cent since 1990.

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Reference 

  • https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32290-X/fulltext
  •  https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WGIIAR5-PartA_FINAL.pdf
  • https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/27808/113573-WP-PUBLIC-FINAL-WBG-Climate-and-Health-Action-Plan-002.pdf?sequence=1 
  • https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-heat-and-health
  • https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32290-X/fulltext
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  • https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32290-X/fulltext
  • https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/27808/113573-WP-PUBLIC-FINAL-WBG-Climate-and-Health-Action-Plan-002.pdf?sequence=1 
  • https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/27808/113573-WP-PUBLIC-FINAL-WBG-Climate-and-Health-Action-Plan-002.pdf?sequence=1 
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  • https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32290-X/fulltext