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Temperatures in Brazil reached over 40 degrees Celsius on Sunday (pictured). Alamy
Lancet Report

'Alarming' health risks due to inaction over climate change as Ireland behind on action plan

A major health report’s findings come as the government admits it has yet to complete one-third of its planned climate actions.

HEALTH RISKS DUE to inaction about the climate emergency will have a “catastrophic threat” to the health and survival of billions of people, a 2023 Lancet report has found. 

In its eighth iteration, the Countdown on Health and Climate Change reveals that inaction by state bodies has led to a number of ‘alarming’ health complications and even an increased number of people dying due to soaring temperatures.

This comes as the Irish government’s third quarter progress report for its 2023 Climate Action Plan concludes that only 87 of 129 proposed actions are completed to date – that’s just 67% of its plan.

Dr Marina Romanello, the executive director of the Lancet Countdown at University College London said: “With 1,337 tonnes of carbon dioxide still emitted every second, we aren’t reducing emissions anywhere near fast enough to keep climate hazards within the levels that our health systems can cope with.

“There is an enormous human cost to inaction, and we can’t afford this level of disengagement – we are paying in lives. Every moment we delay makes the path to a liveable future more difficult and adaptation increasingly costly and challenging.”

Researchers found that there was an 85% increase in the number of heat-related deaths for people over 65 when comparing the 2013 to 2022 period to the 1991 to 2000 period.

This was “substantially above the 38% increase expected (accounting for changing demographics) had temperatures not changed”.

The research also found that these rising temperatures hit a new high in 2023, the hottest year in over 100,000 years. This has left the population exposed to “deadly harms” as a result, the Lancet report said.

People experienced on average 86 days of health-threatening high temperatures in 2018-2022. 

New projections in the report, developed with the Climate Vulnerability Forum (CVF), outline the rapidly growing risks to population health if the 1.5°C global heating target is missed, with every health hazard monitored by The Lancet Countdown predicted to worsen if temperatures rise to 2°C by the end of the century.

Under this scenario, yearly heat-related deaths are projected to increase by 370% by mid-century, with heat exposure expected to increase the hours of potential labour lost globally by 50%. More frequent heatwaves could lead to around 525 million more people experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity by 2041-2060, exacerbating the global risk of malnutrition.

Life-threatening infectious diseases are also projected to spread further by 2050 as a result. 

Look ahead

In a well-timed screening, RTÉ will broadcast a scripted, docu-drama Tomorrow, Tonight this evening – a fictional current affairs show about what Ireland could look like in 2050.

Throughout the programme, contributors will discuss the potential catastrophic effects that global warming and sea level rise could have on ordinary families at home and abroad and analyse the outcomes a global climate refugee crisis could have on Irish shores.

TT Mark Little and Carla O'Brien on the set of Tomorrow, Tonight due to air on RTÉ One at 9.35pm today RTÉ RTÉ

“The conversation about climate crisis can often leave us paralysed by fear,” admits presenter Mark Little. “I think this unique blend of documentary and drama will leave viewers inspired by their own power to shape a better future.”

But Professor Stella Hartinger, director of the Lancet Countdown Regional Centre for Latin America, says such dire projections about 2050 and beyond means “adaptation alone cannot keep up with the impacts of climate change, and the costs are rapidly becoming unsurmountable”.

She added: “The root causes of climate change must be tackled through rapidly accelerating mitigation across all sectors to ensure the magnitude of health hazards do not breach the capacity of health systems to adapt.

Unless governments finally start to act on these warnings, things will get much, much worse.”

Researchers are hopeful that some of these issues will be addressed as the 28th UN Conference of the Parties (COP28) will have a “health focused” approach.

Dr Romanello said: “The health focus at COP28 is the opportunity of our lifetime to secure commitments and action.

“If climate negotiations drive an equitable and rapid phase out of fossils fuels, accelerate mitigation, and support adaptation efforts for health, the ambitions of the Paris Agreement to limit global heating to 1.5 °C are still achievable, and a prosperous healthy future lies within reach.”

The authors of the report have argued that the findings “must force urgent health-centred climate action” and shift the global economy to a zero-carbon footing.

These tasks should be done while delivering “transformative opportunities” to improve the health of world populations through improved energy access and security, cleaner air, safer drinking water, healthier diets and lifestyles, and more liveable cities”.

Behind on goals

However, this report is published as the state’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) has yet to complete a third of its goals this year.

A progress report of the government’s 2023 CAP said there are “minor delays which are expected to be resolved very shortly”. In total, 12 of 42 actions were delivered in the third quarter.

Some of these delayed actions include the publication of the long-awaited National Heat Strategy, which will aim to reach a net-zero emissions status from the heating sector by 2050.

Additionally, the inclusion of bio-waste collection obligations will published by the end of the year and the publication of a detailed roadmap for long-term decarbonisation of the commercial sector.

A roll out approach to cost-effectively retrofitting public sector building stock has also yet to be published, which will assist the European Parliament’s energy performance of buildings directive that could potentially cost €1 trillion.

The European Investment Bank backed a low-cost loan scheme which will assist people to retrofit their homes in the last quarter and the government touted its removal of VAT on domestic solar panels as a success.

Meanwhile, levies to encourage reduced resource consumption and incentivise higher levels of re-use and recycling, known as the ‘latte levy‘ have yet to be expanded or developed.

This year’s Lancet report also highlighted the continued investment in fossil fuels subsidies, which totalled over $300 billion (€281 billion) in 2022.

A statement said the report “solidifies the need for global collaboration and action on an unprecedented scale from governments, businesses, and the public”. 

Professor Anthony Costello, co-chair of the Lancet Countdown said: “While ambition to unlock money for adaptation will be critical, health-centred action requires urgent mitigation.

 “This will require defending people’s health from the interests of the fossil fuel and other health-harming industries. Transformative climate action is needed today to enable a future where present and future generations can thrive.”