Health, Environment

Urgent action needed to include climate change in recovery plans for health

Less than one dollar in five is being spent on COVID-19 recovery plans, which are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Nuran Erkul Kaya   | 21.10.2021
Urgent action needed to include climate change in recovery plans for health


Climate change is having an unabated rise in health hazards, particularly in communities exposed to food and water insecurity, heatwaves, and the spread of infectious diseases, according to the Lancet report on Thursday.

The Lancet, which found a great number of indicators showing the health risks, called on leaders to integrate climate mitigation in COVID-10 recovery plans to address inequalities in health.

The 2021 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, the sixth annual report, tracks 44 indicators of health impacts that are directly linked to climate change.

The report revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the need for increased international cooperation in the face of global crises. And having disclosed that the recovery plans are not compatible with the Paris Agreement resulting in long-term health implications, it called on politicians to show leadership by moving beyond rhetoric and take action at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) that will start on Sunday, Oct. 31 in Glasgow, Scotland

The report warned of the trend by governments to continue to subsidize fossil fuels despite the detrimental climate change effects and the need to reduce carbon emissions.

"A fossil-fuel driven recovery which includes large subsidies for oil, gas and coal and limited financial support for clean energy could potentially meet narrow and near-term economic targets, but may then push the world irrevocably off course and make it impossible to meet the maximum 1.5C of warming as outlined in the Paris Agreement," it said.

The report confirmed that climate inaction has a toll on human health, hitting those hardest living in low-income countries whose populations have made the smallest relative impact on climate change.

As governments turn from emergency spending to long-term post-pandemic recovery, the report stressed the importance that more of these funds are spent in ways that reduce climate change, such as promoting jobs in zero-carbon energy, where investment lags behind what is necessary to keep warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius.

However, Maria Romanello, lead author of the Lancet Countdown report, pointed out that governments are spending trillions of dollars on the recovery from the pandemic but less than one dollar in five on the COVID-19 recovery plan which is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the overall impact of which is likely to be negative.

"We are recovering from a health crisis in a way that is putting our health at risk. This year we saw people suffering intense heatwaves, deadly floods and wildfires. These are grim warnings that for every day that we delay our response to climate change, the situation gets more critical," she said.

Most countries under-prepared for health effects of climate change

The report referred to a World Health Organization survey on health and climate change this year, revealing that only 45 out of the 91 countries surveyed have a national health and climate change plan or strategy.

Only eight out of these 45 countries in the analysis reported that their assessments of the effects of climate change on their citizens' health influenced the allocation of humans and financial resources.

The survey found 69% of these countries in this analysis reported that insufficient financing was a barrier to implementing these plans.

"Climate change is here and we’re already seeing it damaging human health across the world," said Anthony Costello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown.

“As the COVID-19 crisis continues, every country is facing some aspect of the climate crisis too. The 2021 report shows that populations of 134 countries have experienced an increase in exposure to wildfires. Millions of farmers and construction workers could have lost income because on some days it’s just too hot for them to work. Drought is more widespread than ever before," he underlined.

Costello said the recovery from COVID-19 could be green to put the world on the path of improving human health and reducing inequalities, or it could be a business-as-usual recovery that puts the world at risk.

Globally, climate change adaptation funding directed at health systems represents just 0.3% of total climate change adaptation funding, the Lancet revealed.

Drought frequency, food insecurity and rising sea levels

The Lancet highlighted the global inequalities as the world is failing to deliver an equitable supply of COVID-19 vaccines, and similarly, inequalities in the global response to climate change.

The report found that it is the countries lowest on the human development index that are often least responsible for rising greenhouse gas emissions and are lagging behind in climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts as well as realizing the associated health benefits of accelerated decarbonization.

Suitability for malaria infections is increasing in cooler highland areas of countries with a low human development index, while coasts around northern Europe and the US are becoming more conducive to bacteria that produce gastroenteritis, severe wound infections and sepsis.

In resource-limited countries, the same dynamic is putting decades of progress towards controlling or eliminating these diseases at risk, the report said.

Around 570 million people are living less than five meters above current sea levels who could face rising risks of increased flooding, more intense storms, soil and water salinification.

The majority of them could be forced to permanently leave these areas and migrate further inland, the Lancet warned.

The report also cautioned against the increasing potential outbreaks of dengue, chikungunya and Zika, which are seen most rapidly in countries of very high human development index, including European countries.

Due to climate change, up to 19% of the global land surface was affected by extreme drought in any given month, a value that had not exceeded 13% between 1950 and 1999.

This shows that climate change is driving an increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of drought events, threatening water security, sanitation and food productivity while increasing the risk of wildfires and exposure to pollutants.

The most affected areas by extreme drought have occurred since 2015, with the Horn of Africa becoming one of the most impacted regions.

The average sea surface temperature has increased in the territorial waters of nearly 70% of 136 coastal countries analyzed, compared to the 2003-2005 period, reflecting the greater threat to marine food security

Worldwide, around 3.3 billion people depend on marine food.

Last year, adults over 65 were affected by 3.1 billion more days of heatwave exposure, compared to an average of 2.9 billion days a year over the previous decade. Chinese, Indian, American, Japanese, and Indonesian senior citizens were the most affected, the report said.

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