40 million more vulnerable to heat waves because of climate change

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The 2018 report of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change paints a grim picture

• More people globally are vulnerable to heat exposure, potentially causing them heat stress, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.

• Europe and the eastern Mediterranean are more vulnerable than Africa and southeast Asia due to many older people living in cities.

• In 2017, 157 million vulnerable people were exposed to heatwaves globally, and 153 billion hours of labour were lost due to heat exposure.

• While promising trends have begun, funding for adaptation to climate change still falls short of the commitments made in the Paris Agreement.

These are some of the findings of the 2018 report of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change.

Despite a mean global temperature increase of 0.3°C between 1986 and 2017, the average temperature increase people were exposed to was more than double this (0.8°C)

The proportion of the global population vulnerable to heat-related death and disease is growing as a result of climate change’s effects. These effects are particularly pronounced on growing populations of older people, people living in cities, and people with non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The rising vulnerability to the heat-related risks of climate change is mirrored by increased exposure to higher temperatures. Despite a mean global temperature increase of 0.3°C between 1986 and 2017, the average temperature increase people were exposed to was more than double this (0.8°C).

With the pace of climate change outweighing the urgency of the response, the report provides cause for concern. However, the authors also note promising trends in key areas for health, including the phase-out of coal, the deployment of healthier, cleaner modes of transport, and health system adaptation.

“Present day changes in heat waves and labour capacity provide early warning of the compounded and overwhelming impact on public health that is expected if temperatures continue to rise,” says Professor Hilary Graham, The University of York, UK.

He added: “Trends in the impacts of climate change, exposures and vulnerabilities show unacceptably high risk for health now and in the future. The lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens lives and health systems and must be addressed to avoid disruption to core public health infrastructure and overwhelming health services.”

The annual report tracks 41 indicators across five areas: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerability; adaptation, planning, and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; finance and economics; and public and political engagement.

The indicators include weather-related disasters, food security, clean fuel use, meat consumption, air pollution and the number of scientific research articles about climate and health. A full list of indicators is available in Panel 2 of the report.

It involves 27 leading academic institutions, the UN, and intergovernmental agencies from every continent, drawing on expertise from climate scientists, ecologists, mathematicians, geographers, engineers, energy, food, livestock, and transport experts, economists, social and political scientists, public health professionals, and doctors.

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