(CN) — It’s bad, but not inevitable, according to The Lancet’s new Countdown on Health and Climate Change report. The world’s hot, and it’s only getting hotter because of climate change — causing heat related deaths to increase, water supplies and food production to decrease, and accelerating the spread of infectious diseases that will affect billions of people’s health.
The eighth annual report, published by British medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday, is a clarion call from over a hundred experts, researchers and scientists, for politicians, corporations, financial institutions, healthcare workers and citizens across the world to work together to stop burning fossil fuels to protect the planet, and people's health and safety.
"With climate change claiming millions of lives annually and its threats rapidly growing, seizing the opportunity to secure a healthier future has never been more vital. Ensuring that a thriving future remains in reach will require the coordinated action of health professionals, policy makers, corporations, and financial institutions,” researchers write in the report.
Some of the grim statistics in the report include noting that heat-related deaths in people 65 and older increased by 85% in the past 10 years, compared to the years 1991-2000. Heat-related deaths are expected to continue to increase by 370% by mid-century.
Just last year, 62,000 people died in Europe during a record hot summer. Extreme flooding in Pakistan affected more than 33 million people and 3.2 million people in Nigeria.
More frequent heat waves could lead to more widespread drought conditions, leaving 525 million more people to experience moderate to severe food insecurity and malnutrition between 2041 and 2060. Already, heatwaves and drought made worse by climate change in 2021 caused 127 million more people to be food insecure than there were annually between 1981 and 2010.
Researchers also note that climate change is accelerating the spread of viruses like dengue, malaria, vibriosis and West Nile. Warmer seas and rising coastlines have also contributed to the spread of Vibrio bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, severe wound infections, gastroenteritis and sepsis.
But the report isn’t just meant to make its readers depressed. Published ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Conference of the Parties on November 30 in Dubai, the report is meant to present clear evidence of climate change to world leaders.
Researchers hope the report can convince them to collaborate with financial institutions, public health care institutions and the public to accelerate the building of renewable energy infrastructure, green spaces and other projects that will halt the worst effects of climate change and prioritize all people’s health and well being.
“There is still room for hope,” wrote Marina Romanello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown at University College London, in a press release accompanying the report. “The health focus at COP28 is the opportunity of our lifetime to secure commitments and action. If climate negotiations drive an equitable and rapid phase out of fossils fuels, accelerate mitigation, and support adaptation efforts for health, the ambitions of the Paris Agreement to limit global heating to 1.5 °C are still achievable, and a prosperous healthy future lies within reach.”
According to the report, along with the effects of climate change, millions of people die each year from poor air quality caused by exposure to air pollution caused by fossil fuels, especially coal — and especially in poorer countries.
Researchers say in the report that accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will not only work towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving people’s health, it could also diminish health inequalities across the globe. It would also help develop local skills, generate jobs, support local economies and increase global access to electricity and energy.
Food systems, researchers add, are responsible for 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions — 57% of which are from the growing and processing of red meat and milk. Transitioning global agricultural industries to produce healthier, low-carbon foods would not only prevent millions of deaths annually from poor diets and poor exercise, but it would also reduce agricultural greenhouse emissions.
Additionally, building fleets of zero-emission public transportation — while simultaneously changing the landscapes of cities around the world to support walking, cycling and the creation of green spaces — would not only decrease greenhouse emissions from gas-guzzling cars, buses and trucks, but it would also promote exercise and reduce the intensity of heat in cities.
“The health benefits of climate action could be transformative, protecting lives and livelihoods and paving the way to a thriving future,” researchers say.
But, of course, it won't be easy — aside from political intransigence, financial institutions remain reluctant to change.
While lending for green and renewable infrastructure has risen in recent years, 22 of the world’s top 40 private banks have increased their lending to fossil fuel companies, researchers found.
Redirecting banks and lenders from investing in fossil fuel and towards renewable energy is essential, the researchers continue, since an estimated 70% of the projected required investments needed in the green and renewable energy world will have to come from private banks.
“To truly protect health, climate negotiations must drive a rapid and sustained shift away from fossil fuels, accelerate mitigation, and increase support for health adaptation," researchers write. "Anything less would amount to healthwashing — increasing the acceptability of initiatives that minimally advance climate change action to the detriment of billions of people alive today."
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