Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health Professions

The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change is being launched today

Exeter experts join global response to climate change health crisis

Experts at the University of Exeter will join forces with 15 other organisations worldwide to drive action on climate change given potential “catastrophic risk to human health”.

The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change is being launched today at the COP 22 climate talks taking place in Morocco today (Monday November 14).

Professor Mike Depledge and Dr Karyn Morrissey, Professor Peter Cox and Professor Neil Adger of the University of Exeter, will be part of an international, multi-disciplinary research initiative, bringing together leading experts to track and analyse the impacts of climate change on public health.

Dr Morrissey said: “This global project is crucially important. Most projections into climate change completely fail to take into account the huge implications of a warming world impacting on human health. If we are to mitigate against this, we need a global effort to gather the best evidence to influence policy makers worldwide.”

Dr Morrissey and Professor Depledge are part of the University of Exeter Medical School’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, based in Truro, Cornwall. It specialises in exploring the complicated interactions between the changing environment and health.

Dr Morrissey said the Centre’s input would focus around how people’s health adapts to a changing environment, and how health is integrated into international climate change plans. She said: “Currently, these plans consider aspects such as infrastructure and how rising sea levels will impact coastlines, but they do not take into account key issues such as how hotter summers would mean more cases of heart disease and more frequent and severe asthma attacks. These impacts on health must be urgently considered.”

Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet said: "One challenge of the ongoing global climate crisis is to convey the urgency of our collective predicament and the need for decisive action. The research community can make an important contribution to heightening political awareness and accelerating progress by accurately monitoring the evolution and impacts of climate change, convening parties to discuss the implications of these data, and holding policy makers accountable for their promises and commitments. These are the goals of our Countdown on Health and Climate Change."

With the aim of ensuring the case for action on health and climate change is more widely evidenced and understood, the Lancet Countdown will inform decision-making and drive an accelerated policy response to climate change. It will complement other initiatives, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its achievements for climate science.

Professor Neil Adger of the University of Exeter Geography department said: "Nothing will demonstrate the urgency of climate change more than tracking how weather affects people's health and well-being. In this initiative we will monitor floods, drought and heatwave to paint a picture of the real world impacts on people and the environment. If we haven't woken up to the scale of the climate change challenge, our science suggests we soon will."

The Lancet Countdown is partnering with the Wellcome Trust, which is committed to stimulating research on health and climate change. Dr Sarah Molton, lead for "Our Planet, Our Health" at Wellcome, said: "The Paris Agreement is a step in the right direction, but we must build on this momentum. The Lancet Countdown is an important opportunity to ensure that evidence gets to those audiences that can bring about the changes in policy and practice that we need to protect the health of both humans and the planet.”

The interrelation of climate change and public health is becoming increasingly clear. The Lancet Countdown builds on the findings of the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, which concluded that climate change posed both a “potentially catastrophic risk to human health”, while conversely being “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century” if the right steps are taken.

A broader evidence base on interrelated health and climate change trends will notably help demonstrate clear co-benefits of action. An estimated 18,000 people die every day due to air pollution exposure, making it the world’s largest single environmental health risk (4). The World Bank in turn estimates it costs the global economy US$225 billion a year in related lost labour income (5). CO2 and other greenhouse gasses from road transport and fossil fuel energy generation responsible for the bulk of air pollution in the first place, are also a leading cause of climate change. Health and economic co-benefits from addressing climate change – be it mitigation or adaptation – only add to the impetus for action, given that changes to climate take longer to be felt.

The Lancet Countdown comes at a crucial time for international cooperation and national action on climate change, following ratification of the Paris Agreement and the announcement of the 2030 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As part of this transition, healthcare professionals, governments and countries will have to shift from an understanding of climate change solely as a threat, to one which embraces the response to climate change as an opportunity for human health and wellbeing. The Lancet Countdown is aligned with the SGD process in working to ensure the health challenge posed by climate change is resolved by 2030.

Dr Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Head of the Health and Climate Change team at the World Health Organization, said: “The WHO is working with the Lancet Countdown to track progress, and to mobilise support for more ambitious action. When it comes to climate change, when the world drags its feet, the health of our patients all around the globe suffers.”

The relationship between health and climate change, will be addressed by the Lancet Countdown through in-depth analysis across relevant themes in the context of global, regional, national, and city level trends. The scope of the research, analysis and basis for the creation of the initiative is outlined in detail in an accompanying paper published today in the Lancet (4). This provides more detail on the principle themes the Lancet Countdown will cover, namely: the health impacts of climate change; health resilience and adaptation; the health co-benefits of mitigation; finance and economics; and political and broader engagement the paper is entitled The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change

Date: 14 November 2016

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