The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: health at the mercy of fossil fuels
The Lancet published this 7th edition of their report on health and climate change on October 25, 2022. An international and multidisciplinary collaboration of around 100 contributors, the report evaluates the global health situation in relation to climate change.
This edition of the report shows that at a global temperature increase of 1.1°C, climate change has directly affected every aspect of global health. Furthermore, it has also compounded and worsened the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and other geopolitical issues on health. The changing climate threatens crop yields, provides better conditions for the spread of infectious diseases, and worsens people’s standard of living, especially in low HDI countries.
The report monitors and presents data from 43 indicators relating to associations between health and climate change. These indicators fall under five broad categories: Health hazards, exposures, and impacts; Adaptation, planning and resilience for health; Mitigation actions and health co-benefits; Economics and finance; and Public and political engagement.
The increase in average global temperatures caused by climate change has been associated with multiple health issues including kidney injuries, heatstroke, issues during pregnancy, impacts on mental health, worsening of existing cardiovascular and respiratory disease and increases in injury-related death. At the same time, it had also negatively affected the way people work and exercise.
Between 2000-04 and 2017-21, there was a 68 per cent increase in heat-related mortality for people above the age of 65, the paper notes. Additionally, heat exposure also caused a loss of 470 billion potential labour hours in 2021.
In 2018-21, people across the world saw nine additional days of ‘very-high’ or ‘extremely-high’ meteorological wildfire compared to 2001-04. This was an increase of 61 per cent.
The rise in the number of heatwave days in 2020 resulted in moderate or severe food insecurity among a large number of people worldwide. Food insecurity was noted to be 3.7 per cent more than figures from 1981-2010. This is equivalent to around 98 million more people who were moderately or severely food insecure.
Data from the International Energy Agency showed that one-third of all households globally had air conditioning – a 66 per cent increase compared to figures from 2000. As per the report, in 2020, air conditioning was responsible for 0.9 gigatonnes of emissions and 24,000 deaths due to exposure to particulate matter.
Despite rising temperatures, only 27 per cent of urban centres (278 out of 1038 reviewed) globally had moderate levels or more of greenery in 2021. More cities from very high and medium HDI countries (33 per cent and 39 per cent) had at least moderate greenery than cities in high and low HDI countries (16 per cent each).
Actions taken in response to Covid-19 caused carbon dioxide emissions to decrease by 5.4 per cent in 2020, the largest recorded decrease in the last 25 years. However, in 2021, the emissions rose up by six per cent and reached an all-time global high.
Around 98 per cent of the population in very high HDI countries has access to clean fuel for cooking compared to only 13 per cent of the population in low HDI countries.
Around one-third of the global greenhouse gas emissions were contributed by the global food system. Red meat and dairy products contributed 55 per cent of the agricultural emissions in 2019, the report notes. Emissions in southeast Asia also increased by 600 per cent since 2000 due to a rise in pam oil production.
The report states that the transport sector was responsible for 25 per cent of the global carbon dioxide emissions in 2019. The preceding decade saw a 237 per cent increase in the use of electricity for road transport but it still counted for just 0.3 per cent of the overall fuel used.
Analysing the 15 largest oil and gas companies in the world, the report notes that as of February 2022 these companies exceed the emissions limits in place to limit warming to 1.5°C.
Extreme heat drastically affected labour patterns across the world. The global potential loss of income because of a reduced labour capacity caused by extreme heat was estimated to be around 669 billion US dollars in 2021. The agriculture sector was the most affected and experienced 82 per cent of average economic losses in low HDI countries and 71 per cent in medium HDI countries.
In 2021, there were 14,474 articles published that covered both climate change and health – a 27 per cent increase from 2020. That being said, this number accounts for only a fraction of total articles about climate change published globally.
Focus and Factoids by Sowmya Vaidyanathan.
PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.
05 Oct, 2022