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The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: health at the mercy of fossil fuels

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The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown is published as the world confronts profound and concurrent systemic shocks. Countries and health systems continue to contend with the health, social, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Russia's invasion of Ukraine and a persistent fossil fuel overdependence has pushed the world into global energy and cost-of-living crises. As these crises unfold, climate change escalates unabated. Its worsening impacts are increasingly affecting the foundations of human health and wellbeing, exacerbating the vulnerability of the world's populations to concurrent health threats. 

After 30 years of UNFCCC negotiations, the Lancet Countdown indicators show that countries and companies continue to make choices that threaten the health and survival of people in every part of the world. As countries devise ways to recover from the coexisting crises, the evidence is unequivocal. At this critical juncture, an immediate, health-centred response can still secure a future in which world populations can not only survive, but thrive.



During 2021 and 2022, extreme weather events caused devastation across every continent, including floods, wildfires and heatwaves, which add further pressure to health services already grappling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The changing climate is affecting the spread of other infectious diseases, putting populations at higher risk of emerging diseases and co-epidemics. Through multiple and interconnected pathways, every dimension of food security is being affected by climate change, aggravating the impacts of other coexisting crises. The economic losses associated with climate change impacts are also increasing pressure on families and economies already challenged with the synergistic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the international cost-of-living and energy crises, further undermining the socioeconomic determinants that good health depends on. With advancements in the science of detection and attribution studies, the influence of climate change over many events has now been quantified in several indicators.

With the worsening health impacts of climate change compounding other coexisting crises, populations worldwide increasingly rely on health systems as their first line of defence. However, just as the need for healthcare rises, health systems worldwide are debilitated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy and cost-of-living crises. Urgent action is therefore needed to strengthen health-system resilience and to prevent a rapidly escalating loss of lives and to prevent suffering in a changing climate. However, the necessary proactive adaptation is at full speed.

Thirty years after the signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in which countries agreed to prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change and its deleterious effects on human health and welfare, little meaningful action has since followed to tackle the ground-root cause of global warming. Fossil fuel dependence is not only undermining global health through increased climate change impacts, but also affects human health and wellbeing directly, through volatile and unpredictable fossil fuel markets, frail supply chains, and geopolitical conflicts. As a result, millions of people do not have access to the energy needed to keep their homes at healthy temperatures, preserve food and medication. The current energy and cost-of-living crises now threaten to reverse progress toward a low carbon, healthy, liveable future for all.

A health-centred response to the current crises would provide the opportunity for a low-carbon, resilient future, which not only avoids the health harms of accelerated climate change, but also delivers improved health and wellbeing through the associated co-benefits of climate action. Such response would see countries promptly shifting away from fossil fuels, reducing their dependence on fragile international oil and gas markets, and accelerating a just transition to clean energy sources. A health-centred response would reduce the likelihood of the most catastrophic climate change impacts, while improving energy security, creating an opportunity for economic recovery, and offering immediate health benefits. Importantly, accelerating climate change adaptation would lead to more robust health systems, minimising the negative impacts of future infectious disease outbreaks and geopolitical conflicts, and restoring the first line of defence of global populations.

Despite decades of insufficient action, emerging, albeit few, signs of change provide some hope that a health-centred response might be starting to emerge through engagement of individuals or local authorities, coverage of health and climate change in the media, country leaders focusing attention on the links between climate change and health, and updated or new NDCs making references to health. However, increased awareness and commitments should be urgently translated into action for hope to turn into reality.

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Contributor:
Lancet Countdown in Europe

Published in Climate-ADAPT Nov 03 2022   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Dec 12 2023

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