the multiple impacts of global warming on human health

Hundreds of thousands of people, in all countries of the world, die each year from the direct and indirect consequences of global warming. Heat waves, heavy rainfall, wildfires, storms and droughts: the increased likelihood and severity of extreme weather events is well documented but not necessarily linked to human health.

Through 43 indicators developed by a hundred experts, the British journal The Lancet, in partnership with 51 institutions, including the World Health Organization (WHO), is trying to put health back at the heart of the debate. Its “countdown to health and climate change” is published on Wednesday October 26, just days before the start of the world climate conference, COP27, on November 5. “We are at a turning point”insists Marina Romanello, executive director of the project at University College London:

“We are seeing the severe health consequences of climate change around the world, while the continued global reliance on fossil fuels compounds these beneficial health effects against a backdrop of multiple global crises. »

Due to rapidly rising temperatures – the average global surface temperature is 1.1°C warmer than pre-industrial times, and the past seven years have been the warmest on record – vulnerable populations such as people over 65 and children under the age of one are exposed to high temperatures for longer and longer. In Europe in particular, the exposure of the population to heat waves increased by 57% on average in 2010-19 compared to the previous decade, and by more than 250% in certain regions such as the south of Spain or the Czech Republic.

Deaths could double in thirty-four years

The health impacts are direct, including worsening of cardiovascular or respiratory disease, deterioration of sleep and mental health, and increased death from injury. Heat-related mortality increased by 68% between 2017 and 2021 compared to the period 2000-2004. In Europe, if trends continue, deaths during heat waves could double in thirty-four years, according to the first report published on the region.

The impact of these high temperatures can also be seen in the economic data. In 2021, 470 billion working hours were lost, an increase of 37% compared to the annual average from 1990 to 1999. In summary, almost 140 hours per person in one year. This mainly concerns the agricultural sector (40%) and countries with a low human development index. Losses in potential earnings amount to 5.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) in those countries where workers are most vulnerable to the effects of financial fluctuations.

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