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New Report Shows Widespread Health Impacts of Climate Change

  • Global burden of temperature-related mortality projected to reach 4.6 million deaths a year by 2100
  • Average temperatures in the U.S. will rise by more than 40-degrees, leading to an extra 170 days of heatwaves on average each year
  • COVID-19 recovery efforts must be climate-smart and proactive

November 3, 2021 – Parsippany, NJ 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 COP26 Principal Partner Reckitt – maker of popular consumer brands including Lysol, Mucinex and Enfamil ­–  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.

For example:

  • Today, nearly 13 million deaths per year are already linked to environmental factors such as air pollution, infectious diseases and extreme weather events [Prüss-Üstün et al. 2016].
  • Within that, heat is a major issue. By 2100, over 40% of the world’s population will be exposed to extreme heat episodes [Ebi et al. 2021]. The yearly burden of temperature-related mortality alone is projected to reach 4.6 million – on a par with the current impact of obesity and diet-related illness [Bressler 2021].

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.   In the United States, average temperatures between 1990 and 2100 are projected to rise about 43-degrees, leading to an extra 170 days of heatwaves on average each year. By the middle of this century, the number of weeks with risk of very large fires will increase up to six-fold in some parts of the country. [1]

Elsewhere around the globe:

  • India faces significant risks, as the world’s second most populated country, from climate change’s impact on agricultural productivity. 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. [2]
  • Thailand: Even if emissions decrease rapidly, the mean annual temperature will rise by at least 34°F, 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. [3]
  • The UK faces a rise in “tropical nights”, those with temperatures remaining over 68°F. 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.[4] 

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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. 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.”

Catherine Machalaba Senior Policy Advisor and Senior Scientist of EcoHealth Alliance

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” [Atwoli et al. 2021].   

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“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.”

Liam Smeeth Director of London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
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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 minimize the health risks associated with a changing environment. This includes taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Kris Licht Global President of Health and Chief Customer Officer at Reckitt