COVID-19 and climate change are ‘convergent crises’, says latest Lancet Countdown report

The Lancet Countdown report 2020, which was released yesterday, focused on public health and climate change and has been dubbed “the most worrying outlook to date”

No country, whether rich or poor, is immune from the health impacts of climate change, according to the latest edition of the Lancet Countdown report. The report says that the global public health emergency arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are “converging crises” which should be tackled together. This, the report adds, will help save millions of lives and improve people’s health, the report states.

54% rise in heat-related deaths since 2000

The report highlights that countries’ health systems are ill-prepared to deal with rising numbers of deaths because of extreme heat. The Lancet Countdown report shows that the last two decades have seen a 54% increase in heat-related deaths in older people, with a record 2.9 billion additional days of heatwave exposure affecting people of over 65 years of ages in 2019 – almost twice the previous high.

Change in days of heatwave exposure relative to the 1986–2005 baseline in people older than
65 years | Source: Lancet Countdown 2020
Annual heat-related mortality in the population older than 65 years averaged from 2014 to 2018 | Source: Lancet Countdown 2020

Extreme heat is also impacting labour productivity. In 2019, a record-equalling 302 billion hours of potential work hours were lost to high temperatures, over 100 billion more than in 2000.

128 countries witness increase in wildfires since 2000

High temperatures are driving wildfires as well. Since early 2000, 128 countries have experienced an increase in population exposure to wildfires, the report said. Only half of countries surveyed have national health and climate plans, with just four having adequate national funding. Two thirds of 800 cities surveyed globally expect climate change to seriously compromise public health infrastructure.

Converging crisis of COVID-19 and Climate Change

The report says COVID-19 pandemic & climate change must be addressed as two converging crises. The world doesn’t have the luxury of tackling one crisis at a time, it adds stating that wildfires and extreme weather events have affected communities at the same time as the pandemic. Climate change and COVID-19 both exacerbate existing inequalities within and between countries.

The report says countries must align COVID-19 recovery with the response to climate change to meet the target laid out in the Paris Agreement, and avoid damage to public health in the short term and long term.

Chance to reduce air pollution deaths

The report said climate action provided chance to tackle 7m air pollution deaths. PM2.5 deaths are rising globally, but in the WHO Europe region promotion of cleaner energy and transport sectors saw deaths from PM2.5 air pollution fall from 62 per 100,000 in 2015 to 59 per 100,000 in 2018. Deaths from PM2.5 associated with coal fell by 50,000 in 2018, the outlook reveals.

Health gains saved billions of dollars

The report reveals that health gains have saved billions of dollars in economic benefit, which could “more than pay for the costs of mitigation”. Sample this: the European Union’s marginal air quality improvements in the five years to 2019, could be worth an estimated US$8.8bn every year, the report pointed out.

Laurence Tubiana, Chief Executive Officer, European Climate Foundation and chief architect of the Paris Agreement said that tackling the climate and health crises in tandem is the only way to ensure both better public health and healthier economies and societies.

 Vanessa Nakate, youth climate activist, Uganda said drought and flooding has devastated people’s health and wellbeing in Uganda still, foreign companies and governments continue to invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure in Africa.

Mitzi Jonelle Tan, youth climate activist, Fridays for Future, Philippines said her country is facing continuous climate crisis and its healthcare has been overwhelmed. “More air pollution, flooding, and heatwaves will only increase the burden on our health in the future,” the activist said.

Media coverage of health and climate rise by 96% from 2018-19

All has not been bad, the report points out. In a positive development, from 2018 to 2019, the coverage of health and climate change in the media increased by 96% worldwide, outpacing the increased coverage of climate change overall, and reaching the highest observed point to date.

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