New Delhi [India]: The year 2023 has been the hottest year on record, with the world witnessing the hottest global temperatures in over 1,00,000 years and heat records being broken across all continents through 2022.
The latest edition of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change has revealed the grave and mounting threat to health of further delayed action on climate change, with the world likely to experience a ‘4.7-fold increase in heat-related deaths by mid-century.’
The report also highlights how climate inaction is costing lives and livelihoods today. In 2022, individuals were, on average, exposed to 86 days of health-threatening high temperatures, of which 60 per cent were at least twice as likely to occur because of human-caused climate change.
The authors of the report have called out the ‘negligence’ of governments, companies, and banks that continue investing in oil and gas as the challenges and costs of adaptation soar and the world approaches irreversible harm. They warn that without profound and swift mitigation to tackle the root causes of climate change, the health of humanity is at grave risk.
The new regional section of the report highlights the different and unequal experiences of the health impacts of climate change, who is benefiting from climate change adaptation and the health co-benefits of the clean energy transition so far. The authors outline the opportunity that a just energy transition offers to reduce health inequities and improve the health and wellbeing of all populations.
The report authors have argued the stark findings must force urgent health-centred climate action to shift the global economy to a zero-carbon footing while delivering ‘transformative opportunities’ to improve the health of world populations through improved energy access and security, cleaner air, safer drinking water, healthier diets and lifestyles, and more liveable cities.
The study’s latest data reveals the catastrophic threat to the health and survival of billions of people all over the world and to successful adaptation efforts from any further delays in action to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
With the world currently on track for 2.7°C of heating by 2100 and energy-related emissions reaching a new record high in 2022, the lives of current and future generations hang in the balance.
‘Our health stocktake reveals that the growing hazards of climate change are costing lives and livelihoods worldwide today. Projections of a 2°C hotter world reveal a dangerous future, and are a grim reminder that the pace and scale of mitigation efforts seen so far have been woefully inadequate to safeguard people’s health and safety’, says Marina Romanello, Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown at University College London.
The 8th Lancet Countdown report led by University College London represents the work of 114 leading experts from 52 research institutions and UN agencies around the world including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), providing the most up-to-date assessment of the links between health and climate change.
Published ahead of the 28th UN Conference of the Parties (COP), the report presents 47 indicators that include new and improved metrics that monitor household air pollution, financing of fossil fuels, and engagement from international organisations on the health co-benefits of climate mitigation.
Healthcare systems are the first line of defence for protecting people from the growing health harms of the changing climate. But even the current 1.14°C of heating is putting serious pressure on health services, with 27 per cent (141/525) of surveyed cities reporting concerns over their health systems being overwhelmed by the impacts of climate change.
Strikingly, the total value of economic losses resulting from extreme weather events was estimated at USD264 billion in 2022, 23 per cent higher than in 2010-2014. Heat exposure also led to 490 billion potential labour hours lost globally in 2022 (a nearly 42 per cent increase from 1991-2000), with income losses accounting for a much higher proportion of GDP in low- (6.1 per cent) and middle-income countries (3.8 per cent). These losses increasingly harm livelihoods, restricting the capacity to cope and recover from the impacts of climate change.
For the first time, this year’s report provides a disturbing glimpse of what could lie ahead in a heating world. New projections, developed with the support of the Climate Vulnerability Forum (CVF), outline the rapidly growing risks to population health if the 1.5°C target is missed, with every health hazard monitored by The Lancet Countdown predicted to worsen if temperatures rise to 2°C by the end of the century.
Under this scenario, yearly heat-related deaths are projected to increase by 370 per cent by mid-century, with heat exposure expected to increase the hours of potential labour lost globally by 50 per cent. More frequent heatwaves could lead to around 525 million more people experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity by 2041-2060, exacerbating the global risk of malnutrition.
Together, the world’s 20 largest oil and gas giants have increased their projected fossil fuel production levels since last year, which would result in greenhouse gas emissions surpassing levels compatible with 1.5°C of warming by 173 per cent in 2040 (up from a 112 per cent increase expected from their 2022 strategies), further reducing their compliance with the Paris Agreement. Concerningly, fossil fuel companies allocated just 4 per cent of their capital investment to renewables in 2022, putting a healthy future further out of reach.
Ultimately, this year’s Lancet Countdown report solidifies the need for global collaboration and action on an unprecedented scale from governments, businesses, and the public.
‘While ambition to unlock money for adaptation will be critical, health-centred action requires urgent mitigation’, says Professor Anthony Costello, Co-Chair of the Lancet Countdown. ‘This will require defending people’s health from the interests of fossil fuels and other health-harming industries. Transformative climate action is needed today to enable a future where present and future generations can thrive.’
Responding to the report publication, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (who was not involved in writing the report) says, ‘We are already seeing a human catastrophe unfolding with the health and livelihoods of billions across the world endangered by record-breaking heat, crop-failing droughts, rising levels of hunger, growing infectious disease outbreaks, and deadly storms and floods.
‘The continuing expansion of fossil fuels is a death sentence for millions. There is no excuse for a persistent delay in climate action. Temperature rise must be limited to 1.5°C to avert the worst of climate change, save millions of lives, and help protect the health of everyone on earth,’ Guterres said.