Tackling Climate Change


The bad news is very bad, indeed. But first, the good news: "Responding to climate change could be the biggest global health opportunity of this century."

That message is the silver lining contained in a comprehensive newly published report by The Lancet, the UK-based medical journal, which explores the complex intersection between global human health and climate change.

The wide-ranging and peer-reviewed report—titled Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health—declares that the negative impacts of human-caused global warming have put at risk some of the world's most impressive health gains over the last half century. What's more, it says, continued use of fossil fuels is leading humanity to a future in which infectious disease patterns, air pollution, food insecurity and malnutrition, involuntary migration, displacement, and violent conflict will all be made worse.

"Climate change," said commission co-chairman Dr Anthony Costello, a pediatrician and director of the Global Health Institute at the University College of London, "has the potential to reverse the health gains from economic development that have been made in recent decades—not just through the direct effects on health from a changing and more unstable climate, but through indirect means such as increased migration and reduced social stability. Our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate change we can also benefit health. Tackling climate change represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come."

Climate change is fundamentally an issue of human health, and health professionals have a vital role to play in accelerating progress on mitigation and adaptation policies.

"Climate Change is a medical emergency," said Dr Hugh Montgomery, commission co-chair and director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance, "It thus demands an emergency response."

With rising global temperatures fuelling increasing extreme weather events, crop failures, water scarcity, and other crises, Montgomery says the report is an attempt to make it clear that drastic and immediate actions should be taken. "Under such circumstances," he said, "no doctor would consider a series of annual case discussions and aspirations adequate, yet this is exactly how the global response to climate change is proceeding."

When climate change is framed as a health issue, rather than purely as an environmental, economic, or technological challenge, it becomes clear that concerned people facing a predicament that strikes at the heart of humanity. Health puts a human face on what can sometimes seem to be a distant threat. Public concerns about the health effects of climate change, such as undernutri-tion and food insecurity, have the potential to accelerate political action in ways that attention to carbon dioxide emissions alone do not.

Vol. 48, No. 4, Aug 2 - 8, 2015