New Delhi, November 15
The yearly heat-related deaths are likely to increase nearly fivefold the current numbers by mid-century if current temperature trends continue and there is no substantial progress on adaptation, according to a report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change.
Against this backdrop of climate inaction, the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change in its eighth annual global report projects heat-related labour loss might increase by 50 per cent.
Heatwaves alone could lead to 524.9 million additional people experiencing moderate-to-severe food insecurity by 2041-60, aggravating the global risk of malnutrition, it said.
The report further projects an increased spread of life-threatening infectious diseases by mid-century, with the length of coastline suitable for Vibrio pathogens expanding by 17-25 per cent, and the transmission potential for dengue increasing by 36-37 per cent.
Vibrio pathogens are responsible for food-borne diseases such as cholera.
The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration and is published yearly, according to the British journal’s website.
The collaboration monitors the “evolving health profile of climate change” and provides an “independent assessment of the delivery of commitments made by governments worldwide under the Paris Agreement”, the website says.
Climate inaction is costing lives and livelihoods today and the new global projections reveal the grave and mounting threat to health of further delayed action on climate change, the 2023 report said.
With 1,337 tonnes of CO2 emitted every second, each moment of delay worsens the risks to people’s health and survival, it said.
The projections are an indication of what the future looks like because as “risks rise, so will the costs and challenges of adaptation,” according to the report, which drew on the expertise of 114 scientists and health practitioners from 52 research institutions and UN agencies worldwide.
The analysis showed that of the total days reaching health-threatening high temperatures in 2020, human-caused climate change made over 60 per cent of them more than twice as likely to occur.
Further, heat-related deaths in people older than 65 years increased by 85 per cent compared with 1990-2000, the analysis found.
The report said that this was “substantially higher than the 38 per cent increase that would have been expected had temperatures not changed”.
Despite such instances, the 2023 report found that the world is “often moving in the wrong direction”, even as the 2022 Lancet Countdown report highlighted an “opportunity to accelerate the transition away from health-harming fossil fuels in response to the global energy crisis”.
The latest report found that oil and gas companies are further reducing their compliance with the Paris Agreement, driven in part by record profits.
As of early 2023, the strategies of the world’s 20 largest oil and gas companies will result in emissions surpassing levels consistent with the Paris Agreement goals by 173 per cent in 2040, an increase of 61 per cent from 2022, the report predicted.
Meanwhile, global fossil fuel investment increased by 10 per cent in 2022, reaching over USD 1 trillion, with oil and gas extractive activities being supported through both private and public financial flows, the report found.
With little progress in transitioning to clean energy, the persistent use and expansion of fossil fuels will ensure an increasingly inequitable future that threatens the lives of billions of people alive today, it said.
Only 2.3 per cent of electricity in low Human Development Index (HDI) countries comes from modern renewables, against 11 per cent in very high HDI countries, the report said, attributing this to structural global inequities in the development of, access to, and use of clean energy.
It further said that 92 per cent of households in low HDI countries still relied on biomass fuels to meet their energy needs, against 7.5 per cent in very high HDI countries and that deaths had increased in medium HDI countries, where access to non-polluting energy and air quality control measures were lagging.
In the 62-country analyses that included India, the report found household air pollution to result in 140 deaths per 1,00,000 in 2020.
In this context, the transition to renewables can enable access to decentralised clean energy, which could help avoid deaths due to exposure to dirty-fuel-derived, outdoor, airborne, fine particulate matter pollution as well as indoor air pollution, the report said.
The report acknowledged that scientific understanding of the links between health and climate change is rapidly growing.
Also, the health dimensions of climate change are increasingly acknowledged in the public discourse, with 24 per cent of all climate change newspaper articles in 2022 referring to health, the report said, adding that these trends “signal what could be the start of a life-saving transition.”
The report, however, found few signs of the urgently needed progress, in a world still bound to fossil fuel ambitions and thus, called for “a people-centred transformation: putting health at the heart of climate action”.
The pace and scale of mitigation efforts continued to fall very far short of those required to safeguard people’s safety, with current policies putting the world on track for a potentially catastrophic 2.7 degrees Celsius of heating by 2100, the report warned.
Revealing a way forward to a healthy future, the report suggested “redirecting subsidies, lending, investment, and other financial flows away from fossil fuels”.
Health-centred urban redesign can promote safe active travel, reduce building and transport-based air pollution and emissions, and increase resilience to climate hazards, it said.
Increasing urban green spaces can also offer local cooling, increase carbon sequestration, and provide direct benefits to physical and mental health, it said.
With climate change claiming millions of lives annually and its threats rapidly growing, seizing the opportunity to secure a healthier future has never been more vital, it said.
Ensuring that a thriving future remains within reach will require coordinated action and a “science-driven approach” of health professionals, policymakers, corporations, and financial institutions, the report concluded.