Climate-induced floods alone have been found to pose the highest acute risk of climate-induced mortality, accounting for 8.5 million deaths by 2050, says the report.

14.5 million lives may be lost by 2050 due to climate change: WEF report

The report also predicted an economic loss of $12.5 trillion worldwide by 2050 based on scenarios developed by the IPCC

A new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) warned that by 2050 climate change may cause an additional 14.5 million deaths and $12.5 trillion in economic losses worldwide. The report, Quantifying the impact of Climate Change on Human Health, analysed the climate crisis through the indirect impact climate change will have on human health, the global economy and healthcare systems around the world.

The report quantified the health consequences of climate change, both in terms of the health outcomes (mortality and healthy lives lost) and the economic costs to the healthcare system, estimated to be a further $1.1 trillion in extra costs by 2050. The analysis is based on scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the most likely trajectory for the planet’s rising average temperature, 2.5°C to 2.9°C over pre-industrial levels.

Health effects of climate-driven extreme events 

The report analysed six major climate-driven event categories as key multi-pronged drivers of negative health impacts: floods, droughts, heat waves, tropical storms, wildfires and rising sea levels.

Floods were found to pose the highest acute risk of climate-induced mortality, accounting for 8.5 million deaths by 2050. Droughts, indirectly linked to extreme heat, are the second-highest cause of mortality, with an anticipated 3.2 million deaths. Heat waves take the highest economic toll at an estimated $7.1 trillion by 2050 due to the loss in productivity. The report added that excess deaths attributed to air pollution, caused by fine particulate and ozone pollution are expected to be the largest contributor to premature death with almost 9 million deaths a year.

Health outcomes involve both direct and indirect consequences of these events— some of which only appear months, and even years, after the event. Immediate impacts include deaths, physical injuries, malnutrition, respiratory and cardiovascular ailments and exposure to infectious diseases, such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid, which result from drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food. The stress, trauma and displacement caused by climate-related disasters can be expected to produce a surge in mental health illnesses, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, a rise in mental health conditions is an outcome of all six climate events, the report added.

Additionally, longer-term and indirect impacts of this aggravation of health determinants might include stunted development among children as a result of malnutrition, respiratory or cardiovascular diseases triggered by deteriorating air quality from a wildfire or prolonged heat wave or mental illness such as PTSD and general anxiety disorder from the disaster. 

Overview of climate hazard impact on health outcomes  

According to the report, warmer temperatures will also increase both the breeding period and geographical range of mosquito colonies, leading to the expansion of diseases like malaria, dengue and Zika to moderate and previously less affected climate zones such as Europe and the United States. By 2050, an additional 500 million people may be at risk of exposure to vector-borne diseases.

Widening inequality

The report warned that climate change will further entrench global health inequities, with the most vulnerable populations, including women, youth, elderly, lower-income groups and hard-to-reach communities, the most affected.

Regions such as Africa and southern Asia face heightened vulnerability to climate change impacts exacerbated by existing resource limitations, adequate infrastructure and essential medical equipment, further complicating their ability to address and adapt to environmental challenges.

For example, the number of high-intensity tropical storms is anticipated to increase by nearly 10% by 2050, with 90% of them expected to occur in Asia Pacific and North and Central America. Some 40 million people in Africa alone are living in severe drought conditions. Even in more temperate climates, drought is on the rise. Almost 40% of the lower 48 states in the United States and 17% of the European population are facing drought. As a result, high temperatures are threatening food and water security.

Despite these stark findings, the report said that there is still time for global stakeholders to take decisive, strategic action to counter these forecasts and mitigate the health consequences of climate change. Intensified multi stakeholder collaboration, across borders and industries, as well as a comprehensive transformation of the global health system to make it more resilient, adaptable and equitable will be crucial steps to achieve this.