Today’s children are facing climate crisis-related health issues, warns The Lancet’s Countdown on Health and Climate Change, the annual research collaboratively conducted by 35 global institutions. Collated and published each year before the international negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), The Lancet’s Countdown strongly emphasizes that tackling climate change would be a significant global health opportunity. Unless significant intervention takes place, global warming and climate change will negatively “shape the well-being of an entire generation.”
The Lancet’s Countdown was established to provide a monitoring system to track health indicators across five criteria and thereby assess the complex association between health and climate change. These five areas include (1) adaptation, planning and resilience for health, 2) climate change impacts, exposures and vulnerabilities, 3) finance and economics, 4) mitigation actions and 5) public and political engagement. Work began in 2015 and has since been annually tracked, with anthropogenic climate change threatening all the progress and gains made in public health for the past half-century. Moreover, since 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized that health issues attributed to climate change can be prevented or improved upon simply by mitigating the climate crisis.
Climate change can no longer be ignored as a force multiplier threatening global public health. The direct impacts of climate change manifest as rising temperatures, heatwaves and frequent extreme weather events (blizzards, droughts, floods, storms and wildfires), all of which have far-reaching health and social consequences. Human activities have similarly been breaching environmental limits, instigating biodiversity loss, depletion of freshwater, ocean acidification, soil degradation and other irreversible processes.
Health-related incidents flagged by The Lancet’s report include increased risks of low birth weight and infant mortality for newborns. A warmer world affects food productivity, resulting in food and water shortages, population displacement and conflicts that leave children and youth vulnerable to health risks. Children, adolescents and young adults are likely to experience additional maladies that range from cardiovascular issues, asthma attacks, insect-borne diseases, malnutrition and exposure to extreme heat, weather vagaries and climate-driven catastrophes. If the current greenhouse gas emissions trajectory persists with business as usual, then children will face billions of dollars in healthcare costs.
The purpose of The Lancet‘s Countdown is to bring awareness to the interrelationship between public health and climate change, in hopes that a shift can take place to steer society away from business as usual. Ultimately, it is hoped that by engaging with policy makers and the health community, better responses to climate change will happen to improve public health and well-being for everyone, including the most vulnerable demographic — children.
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