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Early warnings of the health impacts of climate change are becoming louder and stronger

Posted on 28 November 2018

More people worldwide are vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change than ever before, according to a major new report involving researchers at the University of York.

The report has found that there has been a lack of progress in reducing fossil fuel emissions.

The Lancet Countdown Report tracks climate change and health over time and monitors commitments made by governments under the Paris Climate Agreement.

The 2018 report notes that:

  • 157 million more people were exposed to heatwave events in 2017 compared with 2000
  • 18 million more people were exposed to heatwave events in 2017 compared to 2016
  • The average person experiences an additional 1.4 days of heatwaves per year in 2017 compared with 2000
  • 153 billion hours of labour were lost in 2017 due to heat, an increase of more than 62 billion hours (3.2 billion weeks of work) since 2000
  • Between 2010 and 2016, air pollution concentrations worsened in 70% of cities worldwide
  • In 2017, a total of 712 extreme weather events resulted in $326 billion in economic losses, almost triple the total losses experienced the year before


Despite the mounting health risks, there has been a lack of progress in reducing fossil fuel emissions - the major driver of climate change - and in strengthening systems to cope with its health impacts.

 However, the authors note promising trends, including continued investment in renewable energy -with 157 gigawatts off renewable energy installed in 2017, over twice the additional 70GW of fossil fuel capacity - and increased investment in the adaptation of health systems. 

At the same time, the health dimensions of climate change are receiving greater coverage by scientists, the media and at the global forum of the UN:

  • Scientific articles on health and climate change increased by 180% between 2007 and 2017
  • Newspaper coverage increased by over 40%
  • Health and climate change is an increasing focus of government leaders’ debates at the UN General Assembly


Professor Hilary Graham from the Department of Health Sciences from the University of York, said: “The health impacts we are seeing today are  early warnings of the dangers that lie ahead if global temperatures continue to rise.  How current generations respond will determine the conditions for the health of our children and the generations to come.’

The annual report involves 27 leading academic institutions, the UN, and intergovernmental agencies from every continent, drawing on expertise from climate scientists, ecologists, mathematicians, geographers, engineers, energy, food, livestock, and transport experts, economists, social and political scientists, public health professionals, and doctors.


The report tracks 41 indicators across five areas: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerability; adaptation, planning, and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; finance and economics; and public and political engagement.

Professor Graham added: “Despite delays, some sectors are embarking on a low-carbon transition, which is a promising sign. It is clear that the nature and scale of the response to climate change will be the determining factor in shaping the health of nations for centuries to come.”

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About this research

The Lancet Countdown Report is availble here.

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