Climate change is a public health issue. According to many studies conducted by researchers around the world, temperatures at the Earth’s surface are increasing, as well as in the atmosphere and oceans. It is said the global average temperature has increased by 1.1°C since the pre-industrial period, and by 0.2°C compared to 2011-2015.
The main cause of this is greenhouse gas emission and the increase in the atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
Consequently, climate change is altering diseases patterns, and most likely new health threats will emerge. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250.000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. Atmospheric phenomena (such as floods, droughts, wildfires and storms) that were not as not common, are now increasing the frequency and strength of extreme events that threaten human health and safety.
However, not everyone is equally at risk. Elderly, people living in coastal and polar regions, and in developing countries with low resources; those that are the least responsible and not really contributing to climate change, will be the first to take the brunt with respect to health and living conditions.
These are the faces of climate change.
A very interesting study led by Jonathan Patz, that looked into data from Global Burden of disease report 2015 and data from the World Bank, shows that there are around 7M premature deaths caused by the energy sector (e.g.1 in every 8 deaths are due to air pollution), this costs the world economy over five trillion dollars every year. Also, because of our dependence on motorized transportation, we have sedentary lifestyles and less physical activity which is estimated to kill more than five million people every year.
If we think of the investment cost of cleaner energy, there are some estimates that might cost 30$ to not emit one ton of CO2 and at the same time for every ton of CO2 not emitted those dangerous pollutants emitted, and the heath benefit for every ton of C02 that you avoid emitting is 200$ (tedtalks Jonathan Patz)
The collective savings of prioritizing threats such as climate change and taking actions and policies to these directions are huge; avoiding deaths, absenteeism, treatments and hospitalizations. Investing this money back to other health concerns would benefit health humanity.
There is no discussion that climate change is an issue that needs urgent action: it affects all of the world’s population in many different ways, with a profound impact on our health and our daily lives. Global warming is widely accepted as a top problem to be solved –and sadly there are still some voices that deny this fact. So global health policies should focus on being part of the solution (in coordination with the rest of policies in industry, education, transportation, etc).
It is important not only to prioritize climate change or environmental degradations over other health concerns but to safeguard human health from climate change impacts.
The actions we do to mitigate global warming could have enormous opportunities for public health and in most cases it requires small changes in habit made by as many people as possible.
In parallel to the climate change issue, there are local needs not so linked to the global warming that also need focus. The prioritization of global health towards climate change cannot dismiss local needs and specific issues that need specific attention.