2021 Lancet Countdown Report on Health and Climate Change Has Worrying Findings

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The 2021 report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate change, a study based on the research and conclusions of scholars from 38 academic and UN institutions published on Thursday, 21 October, provides a very gloomy picture of the future with respect to climate change's long term consequences on public health.

The annual report, sixth of its kind, used 44 indicators of health impacts that are inextricably connected to the climate crisis, and deduced that current trends are worsening and the existing health and social problems caused by climate change are deteriorating.

A significant portion of the report stresses on the recovery of global economies from the battering they received from the COVID-19 pandemics, and how the world's approach to this recovery will have a huge impact on the battle against climate change and the health problems it induced.

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According to Anthony Costello, Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown, "the recovery from COVID-19 can be a green recovery that puts us on the path of improving human health and reducing inequities, or it can be a business-as-usual recovery that puts us all at risk."

The report has been published at a time when 196 countries plus the European Union, all party to the the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), are gearing up to attend the 26th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC, also known as COP26, starting 31 October.

It will be hosted in Glasgow under the presidency of Italy and the United Kingdom, where countries will seek to reach agreements on carbon emission reduction targets and to achieve that goal established over a decade ago, which is financing the climate response of developing nations by providing them with $100 billion a year, by the year 2020.

Key Findings of the Report

The report warns that the recovery strategies of many countries are not in line with the regulations of the Paris Agreement and will inevitably harm global long-term health.

  • As countries continue to provide net subsidises to fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal, thereby increasing their usage, in the year 2020, adults aged over 65 were exposed to much more heatwaves in comparison to the 1986-2005 baseline average. Senior citizens were the most affected included those from India.

  • Unchecked use of fossil fuels will lead to failure in the world's attempts to meet the maximum 1.5C of warming as prescribed by the Paris Agreement, negatively impacting public health of especially those belonging to low-income countries.

  • The report also argues that climate change and its causes lead to proliferation of infectious diseases like dengue fever and malaria.

  • The threats posed by draughts and floods are also very serious. In 2020, in any given month, around one-fifth of the Earth's surface suffered from extreme drought, while around 570 million people have been "living less than five metres above current sea levels", putting them in extreme risk of flooding and their sources of drinkable water become saline.

  • Additionally, food insecurity is also predicted to worsen. It already affected around 2 billion people in 2019.

  • The 2021 report warns of rising temperatures leading to a reduction in crop yield potential in essential crops like maize, wheat, and rice.

  • The threat from wildfires refuse to go away, with the populations of more than 130 countries having faced a surge in exposures to them.

  • Regarding the ability of countries to tackle the crises outlined above, the report has a sombre conclusion, which is that their "healthcare systems are ill-prepared for current and future climate-induced health shocks."

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Underprepared to Combat the Problem

One of the concerns is the lack of priority given to public health problems caused by climate change by way of funding.

The report says that globally, the funding provided to institutions that are specifically combatting the health crisis caused by climate change comprises of only 0.3 percent of the total funding allocated to institutions are combating climate change as a whole.

The other issue concerns preparation and strategy.

In a 2021 WHO survey on health and climate change, merely 49 percent of countries seemed to have a coherent plan for national health and climate change.

And a much fewer proportion of countries said that they had allocated enough human resources and financial measures to tackle the problem.

As the world bounces back from COVID-19, it has to ensure that its revitalisation strategy consists of separate strategies to simultaneously deal with the climate crisis, and thereby preventing catastrophic consequences for public health.

Otherwise, we would be, to quote Maria Romanello, the lead author of the report, "recovering from a health crisis in a way that’s putting our health at risk."

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