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New report shows widespread health impacts of climate change

By 2100, extreme heat could kill as many people per year as obesity and diet-related illness do now. This is one of the concerning findings gathered in a research review conducted by health experts from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and EcoHealth Alliance. The paper, commissioned by us, highlights the health impacts caused by climate change and calls for urgent action to make climate change a central component of public health strategies.

The new review paper, The Impacts of Climate Change on Health, identifies the extent to which increasing emissions, extreme weather and temperatures elevate health risks, from infectious disease to malnutrition, and assesses the associated health burden. It concludes that the health burden will exceed the level of demand that health systems are prepared for.

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Planetary health is public health

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Planetary health is public health

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Planetary health is public health

The planet’s health is everybody’s health

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Communities everywhere are already experiencing first-hand the health impacts of climate change, which come from flooding, food and water insecurity, climate-sensitive diseases and more. Examples include: 

  • As the world’s second most populated country, climate change’s impact on agricultural productivity poses significant risks to India. The negative effects of weather variability on food security could have serious implications for health - for example child stunting is projected to increase by 35% by 2050.[1]
  • Thailand: Even if emissions decrease rapidly, the mean annual temperature will rise by at least 1.3°C, resulting in 70 days of heatwaves per year by 2100 and leading to greater transmission of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever and malaria. By 2070, approximately 71 million people are projected to be at risk of malaria assuming a high emissions scenario.[2]
  • The UK faces a rise in “tropical nights”, those with temperatures remaining over 20°C. Previously a rare occurrence, 16 were recorded last summer. The continued rise will affect overall heat-related mortality, which is projected to increase by 257% by the 2050s.[3]
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“While the physical impacts of climate change on infrastructure are the most direct and visible, the health impacts of climate inaction will create a pandemic of climate-induced health impacts that no vaccine can solve.

Catherine Machalaba Co-author of the paper and Senior Policy Advisor and Senior Scientist, EcoHealth Alliance

The health and economic burden is rapidly growing, requiring an urgent prioritisation of climate-smart COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts to adequately prevent and prepare for the climate crisis. Taking action to protect the health of people and the planet now will cost far less than trying to cope with and repair damages later.”

“The connection between planetary health and human health is increasingly clear. Last month, 230 health journals worldwide united in publishing a letter calling on leaders to take emergency action on climate change and nature restoration, to avoid “catastrophic harm to health”. [4]

Co-author Liam Smeeth, Director, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, added: “Researchers around the world are raising the alarm - climate change is a global health emergency. The evidence is there but the will for change, political and public, is not. The impact of climate change on human health continues to be overlooked and underfunded. We need a new era of public health with climate change at its heart to protect the next generation and beyond.”

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“It is apparent from our research that the health of our planet and the health of our communities are intricately linked. As well as supporting consumers in practicing self-care, through providing access to the highest quality hygiene, wellness and nourishment, we also understand our responsibility to minimise the health risks associated with a changing environment.

Kris Licht President Health and Chief Customer Officer, Reckitt

This includes taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Findings from The Impact of Climate Change on Health is being presented at COP26 as part of our programme of events as Principal Partner and Hygiene Sponsor.

Watch the panel discussion at COP26 here:

If you’d like to find out more about COP26, you can visit our Hub

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[1] Source: India: Climate Change Impacts
[2] Source: Climate and health country profile 2015: Thailand
[3] Source: Climate change effects on human health: projections of temperature-related mortality for the UK during the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s | Hajat et al. 2014
[4] Source: Atwoliet al, 2021