Climate change taking heavy toll on health

Spread of diseases, killer weather, pollution and threat to food supplies cause concern

PARIS • The world should brace itself for a potentially devastating impact on human health due to climate change, top policymakers and officials from around the globe meeting in Paris have said.

Some consequences may be avoided if humanity radically curbs its use of fossil fuels in the coming decades, but many are already being felt, they said at the opening on Thursday of a two-day conference run by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and hosted by France.

"Health and climate are inextricably linked because human health depends directly on the health of the planet," French Environment and Energy Minister Segolene Royal told participants.

Ms Royal, also the rotating president of United Nations-led talks on how best to cope with global warming, said health impact must play a more central role in future negotiations. "From now on, I will do my best to ensure that health is integrated into all future climate conferences," starting with a special forum at the 196-nation UN climate meeting in Marrakesh in November, she said.

The Paris Agreement, inked last December, calls for holding global warming to well under 2 deg C and helping poor nations cope with its impact. A crescendo of scientific studies paints an alarming picture of the human suffering in store due to disrupted weather patterns, rising seas, droughts and superstorms.


Health and climate are inextricably linked because human health depends directly on the health of the planet.

MS SEGOLENE ROYAL, French Environment and Energy Minister.

Tropical disease vectors - for malaria, dengue and Zika, to name a few - are expanding as the insects that carry them spread following warming climes.

Extreme heatwaves set to occur every decade rather than once a century will claim more lives, especially the ill and the elderly. WHO estimated in 2005 that killer hot spells claim 150,000 lives annually.

Most worrying of all, perhaps, is the threat to global food supplies. Many staple foods, especially in the developing world, cannot adapt fast enough to changing weather, resulting in lower yields. Fish - a key source of protein for billions - have not only been depleted by industrial harvesting, but also are migrating as oceans warm and coral reefs die.

Sometimes it is the sources, rather than the impact, of manmade climate change that damage health.

WHO estimates seven million people die each year from air pollution, which also contributes to global warming. "The health sector has been under-represented in this discussion when you think about the millions of lives that will be affected, and even ended," said the UN climate forum's interim head Richard Kinley.

The Second Global Conference On Health and Climate was due to end yesterday with a proposed "action agenda" for national governments.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2016, with the headline 'Climate change taking heavy toll on health'. Print Edition | Subscribe