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Dublin: 5°C Monday 6 December 2021

There's been a rise in weather-related disasters of almost 50% and it's being blamed on climate change

Between 2007 and 2016, there was a 46% increases in the number of weather-related disasters.

Scenes from movie The Day After Tomorrow
Scenes from movie The Day After Tomorrow
Image: Movieclips/YouTube

THE HEALTH IMPACTS of climate change are already being felt today, a new study has revealed.

Labour productivity, the spread of infectious disease, and the exposure to air pollution and heatwaves affecting countries worldwide are already being affected by climate change, according to the first report of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change.

Between 2007 and 2016, there were on average 306 weather-related disasters (mainly floods and storms) per year, representing a 46% increase since 2000.

The report notes that as events worsen over time, the current levels of adaptation will quickly become insufficient.

The possible health impacts of such exposure range from heat stress or heat stroke to exacerbations of pre-existing heart failure or increased risk of kidney injury from dehydration.

Increasing temperatures has led to around 5.3% loss in labour productivity, and economic losses linked to climate-related extreme weather events were estimated at $129 billion (€111 billion) in 2016.

Rise in infectious diseases

The rate of transmission of some mosquito-borne infectious diseases has also increased, with the vectoral capacity (the rate at which a bloodsucking insect population generates new inoculations from a currently infectious case) for the transmission of dengue fever by one species of mosquito increasing by 9.4% since 1950.

The number of cases of dengue fever has nearly doubled every decade.

Global exposure to dangerous levels of air pollution has increased by 11.2% since 1990.

OPHELIA SUMMER COVE 758A7128_90526714 Storm Ophelia displays her power as she attacks the coast at Summercove outside Kinsale in County Cork. Source: Eamonn Farrell

While there is some evidence of early adaptation and mitigation strategies being implemented in some areas, the authors of the new report warn that further progress is urgently needed.

The increase in electric cars, generation of renewable energy, and health adaptation spending show that momentum is building, with an increasing number of countries and cities developing preparedness plans to mitigate the impact of climate change.

The comprehensive annual analysis tracks the progess on climate change. Over 24 academic institutions and intergovernmental organisations including the World Health Organisation and World Meteorological Organisation are involved with the study.

Step-change needed 

“Climate change is happening and it’s a health issue today for millions worldwide. The outlook is challenging, but we still have an opportunity to turn a looming medical emergency into the most significant advance for public health this century.

“As we move in the right direction, we hope for a step-change from governments to tackle the cause and impacts of climate change. We need urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The health and economic benefits on offer are huge. The cost of inaction will be counted in preventable loss of life, on a large-scale,” said Professor Anthony Costello, Co-Chair of The Lancet Countdown and a Director at the World Health Organization.

Christiana Figueres, Chair of The Lancet Countdown’s High-Level Advisory Board and former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the report lays bare the impact that climate change is having on our health today.

It also shows that tackling climate change directly, unequivocally and immediately improves global health. It’s as simple as that. Most countries did not embrace these opportunities when they developed their climate plans for the Paris Agreement. We must do better. When a doctor tells us we need to take better care of our health we pay attention and it’s important that governments do the same.

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