Infants will bear the greatest burden from malnutrition that will impact children's lifelong health along with rising food prices because of global climate change, according to new research from the Lancet on Thursday.
The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change - a research collaboration between 120 experts from 35 institutions including the World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, University College London, and Tsinghua University - showed the average global yield potential of maize, winter wheat, soybean and rice has declined over the past 30 years.
The worsening quality of food and air because of climate change will threaten children's lives most, the research warned.
"Infants and small children are worst affected by malnutrition and related health problems such as stunted growth, weak immune systems, and long-term developmental problems," the report said.
The research also cautioned that a child born today will be breathing more toxic air, driven by fossil fuels and made worse by rising temperatures.
"This is especially damaging to young people as their lungs are still developing, so polluted air takes a great toll, contributing to reduced lung function, worsening asthma, and increasing the risk of heart attacks and stroke," the Lancet said.
- Premature deaths "tip of the iceberg"
According to the research, as global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels continue to rise - up 2.6% from 2016-2018, energy supply from coal is increasingly reversing a previous downward trend, while premature deaths related to atmospheric particulate matter, PM2.5, remain stagnant at 2.9 million worldwide in 2016.
Turkey saw 26,000 premature deaths due to increasing air pollution, the report revealed.
"This might only be the tip of the iceberg, researchers say. If Europe were to experience PM2.5 at 2016 levels over the lifetime of the current population, economic losses and health costs of air pollution-related disease and premature death could reach €129 billion a year," according to the study.
The research further warned that extreme weather events would intensify throughout the adult lives of today's infants.
A child born today will be put at increased risk from severe floods, prolonged droughts, and wildfires because of changing weather patterns. And more frequent and longer heatwaves will redefine global labor capacity, the report also detailed.
"In 2018, a potential 45 billion additional hours of work were lost due to extreme heat globally compared to 2000. Amid last year’s prolonged heatwaves, outdoor agricultural and construction workers in the southern parts of the U.S. lost as much as 20% of potential daylight hours during the hottest month", according to the report.
- Infectious diseases could rise
Climate change will not only threaten children's health with air pollution and food quality but also with infectious diseases.
The report showed that 2018 was the second most climatically suitable year on record for the spread of bacteria that caused much of diarrheal diseases and wound infections globally.
"Children will be particularly susceptible to infectious diseases that rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns will leave in their wake. Changing weather patterns are creating favorable environments for vibrio cholerae bacteria, with global suitability rising almost 10% since the early 1980s - increasing the likelihood of cholera outbreaks in countries where the disease does not regularly occur," according to the Lancet study.
The report advised that a collaborative global effort is needed to tackle climate change and make the world a healthier place for the next generations.
"Pursuing the Paris Agreement pathway to limit warming to well below 2˚C will allow a child born today to grow up in a world which reaches net-zero emissions by their 31st birthday and secure a healthier future for the coming generations," it said in the report.
A total of 195 countries are currently signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement, which is due to commence in 2020. It aims to reduce the impacts of climate change by preventing the global average temperature from increasing to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with a view to further limit this to less than 1.5°C. However, how these targets will be achieved and funded by all countries has not yet been agreed.
- Energy landscape needs to drastically change
"This year, the accelerating impacts of climate change have become clearer than ever," Professor Hugh Montgomery, co-chair of the Lancet Countdown and director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London was quoted as saying in the report.
“The highest recorded temperatures in Western Europe and wildfires in Siberia, Queensland, and California triggered asthma, respiratory infections and heat stroke. Sea levels are now rising at an ever concerning rate. Our children recognize this Climate Emergency and demand action to protect them. We must listen, and respond," he underlined.
For the world to meet its UN climate goals and protect the health of the next generation, the energy landscape will have to change drastically and soon, the Lancet report also urged.
"Nothing short of a 7.4% year-on-year cut in fossil CO2 emissions from 2019 to 2050 will limit global warming to the more ambitious goal of 1.5°C aligned with Paris Climate Agreement," according to the study.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya