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Climate change is one of the biggest global challenges we are currently facing. 

UN scientists have said that it is ‘now or never’ to limit warming to under 1.5C above pre-industrial average levels. And while climate change has detrimental impacts on the planet and environment, the climate crisis also places severe threats on the long-term global health of the world’s population.

According to the Harvard Global Health Institute: ‘The health effects of climate change are immense. But despite strong evidence that climate change will profoundly affect human health, the mechanisms have received little attention and are poorly understood.’

Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that air pollution, coumadin testing device which is primarily the result of burning fossil fuels, causes 13 deaths per minute worldwide.

Without effective climate action, more than 100 million people could be forced back into poverty by 2030, according to estimates from the World Bank.

‘Climate change matters to every aspect of our health and wellness,’ Aaron (Ari) Bernstein, paediatrician and Assistant Faculty Lead to the Harvard Global Health Institute’s Climate and Health Initiative, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Climate shocks such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and fires, made more severe due to greenhouse gas emissions, can harm our hearts and minds, bring on infections and harm pregnancies.’

According to Ari, the effects will impact the young, the old and those who are least privileged, the most.

Changes in weather and climate threaten food security and increase food, water and vector-borne diseases, including malaria, while climate impacts are also negatively affecting mental health and causing ecoanxiety.

Pam Barbato, CEO of Action Net Zero, explains that the climate crisis will impact how ‘we are able to grow food, source water and provide shelter’.

‘Greenhouse gases, including toxic particulate matter, directly affect air and water quality and compromise our food systems,’ Pam says. ‘Mercury levels have risen in fish by more than 30% in the last 20 years, due to mercury being emitted from coal-fired power plants.’

In order to protect the health gains achieved in the 20th century, Ari says that we need to rapidly reduce greenhouse emissions through transitioning off fossil fuels and adopting low carbon energy sources such as wind and solar.

‘Tremendous progress has been made in regards to undernutrition,’ he explains. ‘With more heat, floods, fires, droughts and the potential spread of crop pests and pathogens, crop yields may decline, especially in places where yields are currently lowest. This can make food more scarce and expensive.’

Dominic Kniveton, Professor of Climate Change and Society at the University of Sussex, is part of the Lancet Countdown, which consists of both medics and non-medics from 35 leading academic centres and UN agencies across the world working to ensure that health is at the centre of how governments understand and respond to climate change.

Dominic acknowledges that ‘more subtle changes in climate can affect the jobs we do and influence our mental health’.

‘I would like to see the threat of climate change as an opportunity to redefine our relationship with health service provision from one based on the efficiency of resources to one based on the most effective use of resources to provide good wellbeing for the whole population,’ he says.

‘This is driven by the observation that our individual health is highly related to the health of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us.’

But it’s not just a one-way issue. Our healthcare systems also impact the climate.

‘Worldwide healthcare is responsible for just over 4% of emissions on average,’ Ari explains. ‘Loss of staff and higher costs during Covid-19 have put healthcare on the ropes.

‘As healthcare recovers, we can hope that the current push to decarbonise healthcare coming from HHS, the National Academy of Medicine will result in healthcare doing its part to decarbonise.’

So what can be done?

‘Governments need to act fast to drive change through policy and regulator change,’ Pam explains. ‘And they need to create guidance, blueprints and investment options for cities and regions to accelerate change.’

According to Ari, Governments need to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions that will ‘result in our attainment of the goals outlined in the Paris agreement to ensure global temperature rise is well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century.

‘The best way to achieve our climate goals is to put a price on carbon and the harms associated with fossil fuel use,’ Ari says. ‘This will favour technologies that neither pollute nor cause immediate harm.

‘Air pollution from burning fossil fuels kills 300,000 Americans each year. These deaths fall disproportionately on low wealth communities and communities of colour. 

‘When we get off fossil fuels, we can provide for a healthier, more just, and sustainable world.’

‘The links between the health and climate crisis are clear,’ says Pam. ‘And the solutions are inextricably linked, now is the time to embrace change and support the planet and our health systems to regenerate.’

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