How is climate change related to health?
- Climate change is now a scientific certainty and a major challenge for everyone, including the global health community.
Figure 1. Projected Key Impacts as a Function of Increasing Average Global Temperature Change in the 21st Century. (From most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report)
- To put this in context a 2°C rise is now accepted as inevitable, and a 4 °C rise could easily occur- the 2007 report of the IPCC predicted a rise of anywhere between 2 °C and 6.4 °C this century.
- The effects of continued excessive greenhouse-gas emissions are already resulting in disruption of agriculture, migration and displacement, water and food scarcity, and deepening health crises; cross border tensions, resource and land wars will increase with worsening climate change.
- The past few decades has seen the world’s economy based on the notion that economic growth could continue indefinitely, failing to consider the limitations of certain resources and natural limitations to carbon-based growth.
- The current global economic system makes poverty reduction critically dependent on exports to developed countries, and thus on ever-increasing over-consumption; but this is no longer viable in a carbon-constrained world.
- Implementing the measures needed in developed countries to deal with climate change, such as decreased consumption and a shift towards local production, would therefore have a devastating impact on people in the developing world.
- Reconciling poverty eradication with tackling climate change – essential to global health – thus requires a fundamental rethink of our whole model of development and the global economy.
- The failure of rich countries to tackle these issues urgently is essentially a violation of the human rights of millions of the world’s poorest people.
What can we do about climate change?
- Personal measures such as the ‘Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle’ (and Bicycle) concepts are important steps towards reducing emissions, but in isolation are woefully inadequate and must be accompanied by major policy change at an international level.
- We need a new development paradigm which is not based on the single-minded pursuit of carbon-based economic growth and material consumption. This would include exploring the options of promoting a low consumption economic model; more investment in public transport and renewable sources of energy; promoting greater local trade.
- The triple challenge of responding to climate change, eradicating human poverty and achieving our health-related Millenium Development Goals confronts us with a major public policy challenge that requires fundamental changes not just to the way the world economy is governed, but also to way the world economy is structured.
The following sources provide further insight into strategies for meeting this challenge:
- “The only way to reduce poverty sustainably, let alone to eradicate it, is to recognise the limits to global growth, and to redesign our economic models for the fundamentally different context of a carbon-constrained future.” (Article by David Woodward and Ronald Labonte, The Lancet, Volume 372, Issue 9634, Pages 186 – 188, 19 July 2008)
- “The Green New Deal … outlines a structural transformation of the regulation of national and international financial systems, and major changes to taxation systems… it calls for a sustained programme to invest in and deploy energy conservation and renewable energies, coupled with effective demand management.” (Report of the ‘Green New Deal Group’ published by the new economics foundation)
- “Policies that effectively combat climate change also tackle poverty. Home insulation cuts fuel bills, keeps homes warm, and reduces CO2 emissions; investment in public transport makes travel affordable for all and cuts air pollution; the move to a low-carbon economy could be a stimulus for new skilled jobs in home insulation and energy efficiency.
- “As in struggles around health, the fundamental problems of climate change are more political than technical. Ultimately, we cannot deal with climate crisis without all the painstaking work that goes into democratic mobilisation and political organisation and struggle.
- Addressing climate change as an integral part of improving economic governance for health is one of our core aims: Join us and make your voice heard.