Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Climate change is a 'medical emergency,' report suggests

A new report has revealed that climate change could have
catastrophic implications for public health, both directly and indirectly. Fighting climate change, however, represents the greatest global health opportunity of the century.

The report is the work of a major international research project and is published in The Lancet.

Co-chair of the Commission, Prof. Anthony Costello, Director
of the University College London (UCL) Institute for Global Health in the UK, states that climate change has the potential to reverse the health gains from economic development that have
been made in recent decades.

"However, our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate
change, we can also benefit health, and tackling climate change in fact represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come," he states.

The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change is
a multidisciplinary collaboration between academics, scientists, engineers, policy experts and medical scholars from Europe and China, aiming to assess the impact of climate change and potential policy responses.

Climate change leads to more intense and frequent extreme
weather events, such as heatwaves, flood and droughts that can directly impact on health. However, the Commission believes that the indirect effects of climate change on food security, water and extreme climatic events such as storms are likely to have the biggest impact on global health.

Flooding and drought can compromise food production,
making the availability of food and water uncertain and
potentially leading to malnutrition.

The Commission also suggests that vector-borne diseases will
expand their reach due to changes in climate conditions
allowing for the proliferation of vectors and the movement of
people involuntarily from areas affected by climate change. Air
polluting carbon emissions that are behind changes in the
climate are associated with certain respiratory diseases.

But while the Commission reports that climate change has a
disastrous effect on global public health, many of the proposed ways to tackle the problem will have positive co-benefits for those helping to reduce emissions as well.

'An opportunity to improve human health'

Reducing the global consumption of fossil fuels necessitates
various lifestyle changes. Walking and cycling instead of using motor vehicles not only reduces carbon emissions but reduces the prevalence of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.

And in reducing emissions, the prevalence of respiratory
diseases caused by airborne pollutants also decreases.
Consumption of red meat, whose mass production is harmful to the environment, would also have to be reduced. In turn, many diets that are over-reliant on this form of food would become more balanced and, therefore, healthier.

In order for the global situation to improve, the Commission proposes an action plan in which an organization is set up that regularly reports on global health, climate change and what progress has been made in reducing emissions and creating sustainable health systems.

One of the report's main editors, Maria Nilsson from the
Division of Epidemiology and Global Health at Umeå University, Sweden, says that a strong international consensus
is needed to create a global economy in which carbon emissions are minimized.

"This in turn presents an opportunity to improve human
health," she adds. "Measures recommended in this report are particularly important for populations in the world's
poorest and most vulnerable areas, which are also currently most affected by climate change."

Prof. Peng Gong, co-chair of the Commission from Tsinghua
University in Beijing, China, believes that the health
community has come together successfully to tackle similarly
grave threats in the past.

"It took on entrenched interests such as the tobacco industry and led the fight against HIV/AIDS," he states. "Now is the time for us to lead the way in responding to another great threat to human and environmental health of our generation."

The findings of the Commission will be discussed during talks
at meetings linked to the UN Climate Change Conference in
Paris later this year.

Recently, Medical News Today reported on a study finding that
global warming is unlikely to reduce the number of cold-
related deaths that occur during the winter months.