by Mark Hayes
The threat to human health from climate change is so great that it could undermine many of the gains in development and global health of the last fifty years.
And yet according to the report, actions to tackle climate change could be the greatest opportunity to improve global health.
The initial 2009 Lancet report titled, Managing the health effects of climate change, labelled climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”. Climate change is known to impact on health directly through increased injuries and deaths from heat stress, floods, droughts, and storms.
Beyond these, there are potentially greater indirect impacts: the spread of climate-sensitive infectious diseases; air pollution affecting respiratory diseases; food insecurity; nutritional problems; mass migration and conflict; and mental health.
However, the momentous new release, to be marked by launch events all over the globe and starting in Melbourne, provides comprehensive new evidence that actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change have significant direct and indirect positive health benefits.
Six years on from the 2009 report, the new multidisciplinary and international Commission draws on experts from a range of fields, including public health; climate science; geography; ecology; engineering; economics; political science; and public policy.
They conclude that many mitigation and adaption responses to climate change are “no regrets policies” that are possible right now, and accrue health co-benefits.
In particular, the report cites health and economic gains from reduced air pollution and transition to sustainable cities that promote healthy lifestyles. It recommends rapidly phasing out coal as part of an early and decisive policy package aimed at reducing the health burden of particulate matter and other air pollutants.
Moreover, the development of energy efficient buildings; low cost active transport; and green urban spaces will not only clean up the air we breath, but will also reduce road traffic accidents, obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.
The report emphasises that achieving a decarbonised global economy, and the associated public health benefits, is no longer a technical or economic question, but rather it is now a political one.
In the lead up to the pivotal UN climate negotiations in Paris this December this report calls for bold political commitment.
Echoing this call for action are leading health and medical groups in Australia who have welcomed the new publication. The Nossal Institute for Global Health, Australian Medical Association (Victoria), Public Health Association of Australia (Victoria), the Australian Medical Students Association, the Climate and Health Alliance and the Melbourne Sustainable Societies Institute are cohosting a forum in Melbourne, with Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty set to launch the publication in Australia.
Australian National University, the Royal Australian College of Physicians, University of Western Australia, the Climate Council, and Adelaide University are all hosting events in the following days and months.
With the Australian government expected to release its revised emission reduction targets in mid-July, time will soon tell if our leaders will hear the calls from health professionals.
The solutions are available and effective. Health communities around the globe agree that we can, and must, act now to protect our health now and into the future.