Climate change will damage health of a generation: Experts

Tourists wearing masks during their visit to the Taj Mahal in India amid heavy smog conditions yesterday. An annual report on the impact of climate change on human health says that people in cities are already suffering premature disease and death fr
Tourists wearing masks during their visit to the Taj Mahal in India amid heavy smog conditions yesterday. An annual report on the impact of climate change on human health says that people in cities are already suffering premature disease and death from air pollution.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Rise in deadly infectious diseases, surging malnutrition, air pollution among causes

PARIS • Climate change will damage the health of an entire generation unless there are immediate cuts to fossil fuel emissions, from a rise in deadly infectious diseases to surging malnutrition, experts warned yesterday.

Children across the world were already suffering the ill effects of air pollution and extreme weather events, The Lancet Countdown said in its annual report on the impact of climate change on human health.

And far worse is to come for future generations, it warned: airborne diseases, malnutrition due to mass crop failures, and mental and physical trauma from increased flash flooding and wildfires.

The Lancet Countdown is a coalition of 35 institutions, including the World Health Organisation and the World Bank.

Its warning comes as some of Australia's worst wildfires in living memory continue to burn across its eastern seaboard, and after a global youth strike inspired by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg.

August was the hottest month ever recorded and earth has already warmed 1 deg C since industrialisation.

The Paris climate treaty of 2015 enjoins nations to limit temperature rises to 2 deg C, or preferably to 1.5 deg C if possible.

Yet, emissions continue to rise year on year, putting earth on a path that could lead to a 4 deg C temperature rise by the end of the century - bringing peril for human health.

The report said "nothing short" of a 7.4 per cent year-on-year cut in carbon dioxide emissions until 2050 would limit global warming to 1.5 deg C.

 
 
 
 

"A kid born today has an average global life expectancy of 71 years, so that brings them to 2090. That means that kid will experience a 4 deg C world," Dr Nick Watts, executive director of The Lancet Countdown, said.

The report, compiled by 120 experts, used the latest available data and climate modelling to predict global health trends as the mercury climbs throughout the decades.

Already, in parts of the world, the health effects from climate change start in the first weeks of a baby's life.

In the last 30 years, the global yield potential of staple crops such as maize, winter wheat and rice, has all declined, putting infants and small children at heightened risk of malnutrition.

Infant malnutrition impacts every stage of a child's life, stunting growth, weakening the immune system and throwing up long-term developmental problems.

More children will also be susceptible to infectious disease outbreaks. In just three decades, the number of days worldwide of prime infectiousness for the vibrio bacteria - which cause much of child diarrhoeal disease worldwide - has doubled.

This not only increases the likelihood of children contracting diseases such as cholera in at-risk regions, it also enlarges their spread.

The report found that mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria were also on the march, putting half of the world's current population at risk.

And people in cities are already suffering premature disease and death from air pollution - coal plants alone contributed a likely one million premature deaths worldwide in 2016.

Extreme weather events are likely to proliferate as temperatures climb, posing increasingly frequent economic disruption.

For example, last year, 45 billion hours of work were lost due to extreme heat globally.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2019, with the headline 'Climate change will damage health of a generation: Experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe