Health systems are ill-prepared to face the growing dangers of climate change, and no country is immune. This is what the Covid crisis has proven, warn experts in a report published on December 3 in the journal The Lancet.
“Threats to human health are multiplying and intensifying due to climate change. If we do not change course, our health systems may be overwhelmed in the future”, warns Dr Ian Hamilton, Executive Director of the report on health and climate change, published annually by the medical journal.
This report measures 43 key indicators on these two subjects and is produced in collaboration by 35 institutions, including the WHO (World Health Organization), WMO (World Meteorological Organization) and several universities.
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“Climate change reinforces existing inequalities”
“We are facing the bleakest public health outlook our generation has seen,” warns Dr Wenjia Cai of Tsinghua University in Beijing. This publication comes a few days before the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, which commits states to limiting global warming to well below 2 ° C, or even 1.5 ° C.
“Climate change creates a cruel gap that reinforces existing inequalities in terms of health, between and within countries. (…) As with Covid-19, the elderly are particularly vulnerable, those with pathologies such as ‘asthma or diabetes are even more so, “notes Hugh Montgomery, intensive care physician, quoted in a press release.
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More and more deadly heat waves
Over the past 20 years, mortality from heatwaves has climbed 54% among those over 65 and 296,000 people died in 2018, according to the report. The countries most affected were China, India, Germany, the United States, Russia and Japan.
In France, heatwave episodes caused 8,000 deaths in 2018 alone among those over 65. “No country, rich or poor, is immune to the health consequences of worsening climate change,” the report warns.
Very hot weather also has an economic impact, preventing outdoor work in developing countries. Billions of working hours were lost in 2019, especially in India, China and Bangladesh.
Read also: More than 2,400 emergency room visits this summer with the heatwave
The question of food
Rising temperatures and ever-increasing extreme weather events are also threatening food security.
At the same time, “unhealthy diets are becoming more prevalent in the world, with excessive consumption of red meat contributing to 990,000 deaths in 2017”, including 13,000 in France.
The report also looked at deaths caused by the use of fossil fuels, in particular coal, responsible for global warming but also for seven million deaths a year due to air pollution.
Read also: Global warming: consequences on the health of the French
Emergence of new diseases
Scientists have already made the link between the destruction of nature by humans and the emergence of new diseases, zoonoses such as Covid-19. Climate change is also contributing to a greater spread of infectious diseases around the world, warns the report, which cites dengue or malaria.
Among the reasons for hope, health systems are adapting to climate change. In 86 countries, they are connected to meteorological services in order to better prepare. And more and more States are making the link between health and climate.
Limiting global warming will reduce the negative effects in terms of health, experts insist.
Read also: Seniors, the first victims of global warming
“Take the environment more seriously”
“The time has come for all of us to take environmental factors in terms of health more seriously,” urges Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet. “We must respond to the climate emergency, protect biodiversity and strengthen the natural systems on which our civilization depends,” he continues.
The billions spent to revive the economy around the world present “a real opportunity to harmonize responses to the pandemic and climate change”, notes Maria Neira of the WHO. “But time is running out,” she warns.