The health of the world’s population is at the mercy of a global addiction to fossil fuels, according to a study.
Analysis points to rise in heat-related deaths, hunger and infectious diseases as the climate crisis deepens, while governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels more than countries the poorest who suffer the effects of global warming.
The climate emergency is aggravating the food, energy and cost of living crises, the report says. For example, almost half a trillion working hours were lost in 2021 due to extreme heat. This has mostly affected agricultural workers in the poorest countries, reducing food supplies and incomes.
However, the report says urgent, health-focused action to tackle global warming could save millions of lives every year and enable people to thrive rather than just survive, with cleaner air and better food. .
The report, from the Lancet Countdown group on health and climate change, is titled Health at the Mercy of Fossil Fuels. It was produced by nearly 100 experts from 51 institutions from all continents and released ahead of the UN Cop27 climate summit in Egypt.
“The climate crisis is killing us,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in response to the report. “This is jeopardizing not only the health of our planet, but the health of people around the world – through toxic air pollution, decreased food security, increased risks of infectious disease outbreaks, record extreme heat, drought , flooding and more.”
Human health, livelihoods, household budgets and national economies were under strain, as reliance on fossil fuels continued to spin out of control, he added. “The science is clear: massive, sensible investments in renewable energy and climate resilience will ensure healthier and safer lives for people everywhere.
Dr Marina Romanello, head of the Lancet Countdown and University College London (UCL), said: ‘We are seeing a persistent reliance on fossil fuels. Governments and corporations continue to favor the fossil fuel industry at the expense of people’s health.
The report tracks 43 health and climate indicators, including exposure to extreme heat. It found that heat-related deaths in the most vulnerable populations – babies under one and adults over 65 – have increased by 68% over the past four years compared to 2000- 04.
“Heat waves are not only very uncomfortable, they are deadly for people who have heightened vulnerabilities,” Romanello said.
Extreme heat has also kept people out of work, with 470 billion working hours lost globally in 2021. “This is an increase of around 40% from the 1990s and we estimate incomes and associated economic losses of approximately $700 billion,” she said. About 30% more land is now affected by episodes of extreme drought compared to the 1950s.
These impacts lead to increased hunger, the report says. Hot spells in 2020 have been associated with 98 million more people unable to get the food they need, compared to the 1981-2010 average, and the proportion of the world’s population that is food insecure is also increasing . “The biggest driver of this is climate change,” Romanello said.
Professor Elizabeth Robinson of the London School of Economics said: “This is particularly worrying given that global food supply chains have again this year proved highly vulnerable to shocks. [such as the war in Ukraine]manifesting itself in a rapid increase in food prices.
The report also recorded the impact of the climate crisis on infectious diseases, finding that periods of malaria transmission have become 32% longer in mountainous areas of the Americas and 15% longer in Africa over the past decade. , compared to the 1950s. The probability of dengue fever transmission increased by 12% during the same period.
The Lancet report also tracks the fossil fuel system. It found that 80% of the 86 governments assessed subsidized fossil fuels, providing a total of $400 billion in 2019. These subsidies exceeded national health spending in five countries, including Iran and Egypt, and more 20% of health expenditure in another country. 16 countries.
“Governments have so far failed to provide the smallest sum of $100 billion a year to help support climate action in low-income countries,” the report notes.
The report says the strategies of the 15 largest oil and gas companies remain sharply at odds with ending the climate emergency, “regardless of their climate claims and commitments.”
Professor Paul Ekins from UCL said: “The current strategies of many governments and companies will lock the world into a fatally warmer future, tying us to the use of fossil fuels which are rapidly closing the prospects of a livable world. “
Reducing the burning of fossil fuels quickly would not only reduce global warming but bring immediate health benefits, Romanello said, such as preventing a million or more premature deaths from air pollution per year.
A shift towards more plant-rich diets in developed countries will halve emissions from red meat and milk production and prevent up to 11.5 million diet-related deaths a year, says the report.
“The world is at a critical moment. We must change or our children will face a future of accelerated climate change, threatening their very survival,” said Professor Anthony Costello, Co-Chair of The Lancet Countdown. “A health-centered response to the current crises would still offer the opportunity to deliver a low-carbon, resilient and healthy future.”