New climate report warns next generation will face severe health issues

17 Novembre, 2019, 02:36 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • The Lancet warning follows a year of global youth climate strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg

A major new report has warned that climate change poses an unprecedented threat to children and will impact on human health from infancy and adolescence, through to adulthood and old age. If we fail to limit greenhouse gas emissions, we will be faced with extreme changes threatening food security, increasing vulnerability to infectious disease, reducing working hours and exposing populations to more extreme weather events like wildfires and drought. And they're at risk for lifelong health threats unless the world meets Paris Agreement targets to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, the scientists reported in the November 14 issue of The Lancet.

The 43-page document follows similar annual reports delivered by the Lancet Countdown in 2017 and 2018 and is a data-driven, deep analysis of the lifelong health consequences of soaring global temperatures. Children and those in low-income and middle-income settings will be "among the worst affected". Upon tracking political engagement, The Lancet Countdown found that national leaders, particularly from small islands and developing states, are increasingly drawing attention to health and climate change at the UN General Debate.

Consider a child born today, November 14, 2019.

A baby born today could experience a world that is more than 4 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial average, well above the roughly 1 degree Celsius of warming the world has experienced so far, the report notes.

"It will take the work of 7.5 billion people now alive to ensure that the health of a child born today isn't defined by a changing climate", she added. The researchers found that there were more than 220 million additional heat wave exposures in 2018 for people over 65 compared to the average between 1986 and 2005. In 152 out of 196 countries, an increasing number of people have been exposed to wildfires since 2001-2004 - with a financial toll per person 48 times larger than flooding. More people were exposed to floods and storms in Africa, but no change in lethality was identified. Not only was 2018 the fourth-hottest year on record, it was a year of prime weather conditions for disease transmission. Nine of the ten most clinically suitable years in history for dengue fever transmission have been since 2000, and mosquitoes are now starting to spread across Europe and other new regions.

The report notes that as temperatures rise, infants will bear the greatest burden of malnutrition and rising food prices - average yield potential of maize and rice has declined nearly 2% in India since the 1960s, with malnutrition already responsible for two-thirds of under-5 deaths. Potentially 7 million deaths were caused by air pollutants in 2016.

Children are also likely to prove particularly susceptible to infectious disease outbreaks caused by rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns.

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Dr. Zigby, a family physician in Montreal, called on governments in Canada to "give a signal" to administrators, hospitals and health-care centre that reducing emissions is a priority, urging them to set "quantitative and robust" directives, such as devising new environmental criteria to assess when selecting vendors. Last week, over 11,000 scientists from a variety of disciplines sounded a thunderous warning, declaring a "climate emergency". This exposure especially leaves children vulnerable to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, and breathing problems, such as asthma.

"Climate change is not about 2100, climate change is about Wednesday, 13 November 2019", said Watts, speaking on the day.

"Young people are right to be angry, and concerned about the future - the science is frightening".

Commenting on the findings, Anne Stauffer, a director at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), said they show "we're at a crossroads".

It may be slow and incremental, but it is progress when it comes to tackling climate change.

The report calls on communities to challenge global leaders to act on climate threat.

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