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Global experts launch report on climate change health crisis

Posted on 14 November 2016

A University of York academic is one of 48 world leading experts to contribute to the inaugural Lancet report amid warnings of a “catastrophic risk to human health” from climate change.

Hilary Graham

The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change is an international research initiative bringing together leading experts from 16 global organisations - alongside special collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) - to track and analyse the impacts of climate change on public health.

Launched at the COP22 climate talks in Morocco, the Lancet Countdown will be an annual report to track progress on the implementation of the UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to resolve health challenges posed by climate change by 2030.

Stating evidence to drive an accelerated policy response, the report builds on the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, which found:

  • An estimated 18,000 people die every day due to air pollution exposure, making it the world’s largest single environmental health risk
  • The World Bank in turn estimates it costs the global economy US$225 billion a year in related lost labour income
  • CO2 and other greenhouse gasses from road transport and fossil fuel energy generation, responsible for the bulk of air pollution in the first place, are also a leading cause of climate change

The 2015 report concluded that climate change posed both a “potentially catastrophic risk to human health”, while conversely being “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century” if the right steps are taken.

It is hoped healthcare professionals, governments and countries will shift from an understanding of climate change solely as a threat, to one embracing the response to climate change as an opportunity for human health and wellbeing.

Hilary Graham (pictured above), Professor in Health Sciences at the Department of Health Sciences, and contributor to the report, said: “Climate change is already exacerbating existing health inequities, damaging the health of children and future generations. By embracing the health opportunities that a strong response to climate change brings, we can help them grow, develop, and live full lives.”

“The Lancet Countdown will work to track and accelerate this transition, providing the evidence that empowers doctors and nurses to advocate for the health of the communities they serve.”

Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Head of the Health and Climate Change team at the World Health Organisation, said: "The Paris Agreement was a landmark achievement – the challenge now is to meet the targets agreed by world leaders. The WHO is working directly with countries to provide evidence of the specific health risks that each of them faces, and the health opportunities of a resilient, low carbon future – as well as the support that they need to respond to this defining health issue of our time.

“The WHO is working with the Lancet Countdown to track progress, and to mobilize support for more ambitious action. When it comes to climate change, when the world drags its feet, the health of our patients all around the globe suffer.”

Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, said: "One challenge of the ongoing global climate crisis is to convey the urgency of our collective predicament and the need for decisive action. The research community can make an important contribution to heightening political awareness and accelerating progress by accurately monitoring the evolution and impacts of climate change, convening parties to discuss the implications of these data, and holding policy makers accountable for their promises and commitments. These are the goals of our Countdown on Health and Climate Change."

Notes to editors: