Climate Change and Global Health

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Climate change poses a significant threat to global infrastructure, land, economies, communities, and human health. Climate change refers to long-term changes in climate patterns partly accelerated by higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the process will affect various aspects of the environment including weather patterns, ecosystems, water security, and air quality. The effect on human health may include higher incidences of morbidity and mortality from poor air quality, spread of infectious disease, and thermal distress. As the link between climate change and health becomes established knowledge, greater attention must be paid towards immediate and future policy decisions.

Last month, the Lancet-University College London Commission on health and climate change published a report on the effect of climate change on global health. The Commission argued that addressing climate change would be an opportunity to strengthen future global health challenges. The consequences of overlooking the threat of climate change will be calamitous, as researchers contend that the “implications of climate change for a global population of 9 billion people threatens to undermine the last half century of gains in development and global health.”  In order to control climate change, global temperature averages must not exceed 2°C and carbon emissions must not exceed 2900 billion tonnes by the end of the 21st century. The Commission reports that global CO2 emissions is expected to surpass 2900 in 15-30 years.  As a result of this alarming global health threat, the Commission has offered a number of strategies that aim to curb existing trends.

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The Commission references the need to mitigate the use of coal by utilizing alternative energy sources. National governments are further encouraged to develop cities that support “lifestyles that are healthy for the individual and for the planet” such as affordable public transportation and public “green spaces.” The report emphasizes the necessity of a carbon pricing framework to better regulate CO2 emission. Low and middle-income countries, many of which will face a singular impact of climate change, should be given greater access to renewable energy.

The Commission further calls for greater investment in health and climate change research and surveillance, including studies that illustrate the correlation between climate change mitigation and online pharmacy, related morbidity. This will require research and policy collaboration between health departments and other government divisions.

Finally, the report urges the implementation of an international accord on lowering carbon emissions, as well as the development of an independent policy group on global health and climate change. The latter appears especially apt in light of the upcoming UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) discussions. From November 30 – December 11, the Conference of the Parties to UNFCCC will be holding its 21st session in Paris. Members will work towards developing an international agreement on preventing global temperature levels from exceeding 2°C.

Still, the subject of health remains underexplored in the upcoming UNFCCC conference agenda. Consequently, the World Health Organization will collaborate with the UNFCCC in preparing dozens of country profiles in the next few months that detail the implications of climate change specific to that region while proposing specialized strategies for action.