Climate change expected to cause additional 250,000 deaths a year

The need to whip up global support in order to cut down on deaths from conditions caused by climate change is taking centre stage in a few weeks as global concerns continue to grow over deaths projected to happen between 2030 and 2050.

Climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress, World Health Organisation (WHO) sources have indicated.

These and other concerns are urgent matters. And in order to boost ambition and accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is hosting the 2019 Climate Action Summit in September to meet the challenges of the times.

The WHO says the summit is expected to “showcase a leap in collective national political ambition and it will demonstrate massive movements in the real economy in support of the agenda.”

Adding that together these developments would send strong market and political signals and inject momentum in the “race to the top” among countries, companies, cities and civil society that is needed to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Various national and international actors at different of levels of actions are racing in search of all kinds of interventions to ensure that the widespread and devastating effects of climate change on humankind are held in check.

Dr. Emmanuel Tachie-Obeng, Chief Programme Officer at the Climate Change Unit of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an interview with, says capacity building of various sectors is one of the many actions being rolled out in Ghana.

Speaking on how climate change impacts on health, he adds that  currently the Ministry of Health and it’s implementing agency, the Ghana Health Service have climate change representatives working with the EPA to ensure that all climate change health-related issues and diseases are tracked and managed properly.

Accordingly, some surveys have already been conducted on climate change and how it impacts on various diseases.

He says surveillance mechanisms, establishment of health monitoring centres and policies are some strategies being put in place to support the health sector to deal with climate change issues.

According to him, climate change has brought about global warming, altered rainfall patterns and the quality of air and all these affect all sectors such as health, energy and agriculture.

He says climate change affects hydropower generation and energy supplies which can have an impact on healthcare because stable electricity supply is needed for effective services.

Adding that climate change also impacts on other important areas which play a huge role in the health outcomes of the population in terms of water supplies and food production.

Dr. Tachie-Obeng notes that climate change has far reaching effects and can aid the spread of diseases such as meningitis due to high temperature and heat waves.

There is an urgent global call to alert all stakeholders that there is still time to tackle climate change but this would require an unprecedented effort from all sectors of society.

In connection with the September Climate Action Summit, the WHO is extending an invitation to various key stakeholders, particularly member states such as Ghana, to support commit to ambitious actions on climate change and health by achieving air quality that is safe for citizens, and to align climate change and air pollution policies by 2030.

It is also urging multilateral development banks, climate fund, bilateral development agencies, philanthropic organizations and private sector actors to commit to significantly scaling up investment in proven interventions for climate-resilient health systems.

The WHO says it is working with Spain, Peru and the UN Secretary General’s team to secure strong commitments in addressing air pollution and climate change.

In a recent factsheet, it notes that climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health-clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

Adding that the “direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between $2-4 billion a year by 2030.”

“Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution,” it explains.

Threat of the century

A recent report compiled by a group of experts around the globe says climate change is “the greatest health challenge of the 21st century, and threatens all aspects of the society in which we live.”

“Climate change threatens to undermine over half a century of global improvements in health achieved with dedicated, targeted action by policy- makers and the health community,” the report notes.

The 2018 COP24 Special Report on Health and Climate Change notes that the severity of the impacts of climate change on human health is increasingly clear and adds that any further delay in action will increase the risks.

The report is made up of contributions from the public health community to support the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

It is based on contributions from over 80 health professionals, academic experts, representatives of civil society and international agencies who have worked on climate change and health for over three decades.

According to the report, the 2015 Paris Agreement is the first climate agreement to gain strong global support, having now been ratified by over 100 countries.

The Agreement sets clear targets to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to minimize warming to no more than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

It also provides mechanisms to help countries not only to meet their mitigation targets but also to effectively adapt to climate change.

“Thus, the Paris Agreement is potentially the strongest health agreement of this century, as it addresses not only the health risks associated with climate change through mitigation and adaptation but also helps ensure attainment of the SDGs, which are integral to good health,”  the report notes.

Last year, the first WHO Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health took place in Geneva, setting the aspirational goal of reducing the number of deaths from air pollution by two thirds by 2030.

The “Geneva Action Agenda to Combat Air Pollution” lists 17 activities that would increase countries’ ability to achieve the goal.

They include scaling up and mobilising action, providing clean energy and transport alternatives, strengthening action to protect the most vulnerable populations (particularly children) and  extending clean energy access in Africa and to other populations in need.

Others are enhancing interventions to prevent non-communicable diseases, establishing a monitoring and evaluation mechanism on governance and health impacts, and improving gender equity by increased access to clean household energy and technologies.

According to the WHO, due to climate change, extreme high air temperatures are contributing directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including triggering asthma.

This same phenomena is responsible for natural disasters, variable rainfall patterns and these disasters result in over 60 000 deaths, mainly in developing countries.

Water supplies are also becoming an issue in many countries including Ghana, and caution is being sounded that increasingly variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of fresh water.

“A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrhoeal disease, which kills over 500 000 children aged under 5 years, every year. In extreme cases, water scarcity leads to drought and famine,” WHO sources warns.

“By the late 21st century, climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of drought at regional and global scale,” it adds.

More Actions

Climate change issues have both national and global implications and these are bringing many actors on board to cut down on the impact on health outcomes, preventable deaths and ill health.

InsideClimate News, a  non-profit news outlet  providing essential reporting and analysis on climate, energy and the environment for the public and decision makers,  carried a recent report of US-based medical groups warning politicians that climate change should be treated as a health emergency.

The news report published in June this year, says “the nation’s leading medical organizations are urging political candidates to recognize climate change as a health emergency.”

It adds that more than 70 health organisations in the US signed a statement to, among others, call for a move away from fossil fuels with the groups citing issues related to storm and flood emergencies, chronic air pollution, the spread of diseases and heat-related illnesses.

It notes that the American Medical Association and the American Heart Association joined in signing the “US call to action on climate health and equity”, agenda in recognition “that climate change poses a greater threat to children, pregnant women and marginalized communities….”.

The 2019 US call to action on climate, health, and equity policy agenda, notes that climate change is one of the greatest threats to health America has ever faced and it is a true public health emergency.

The warning is that the health, safety and wellbeing of millions of people in the US have already been harmed by “human-caused climate change and health risks in the future are dire without urgent action to fight climate change.”

There is still time to act. Stakeholders at the national, regional and international level need to heed the wake-up call and halt the devastating effects of climate change.

According to the WHO, many policies and individual choices have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and produce major health co-benefits.

“For example, cleaner energy systems, and promoting the safe use of public transportation and active movement – such as cycling or walking as alternatives to using private vehicles – could reduce carbon emissions, and cut the burden of household air pollution, which causes some 4.3 million deaths per year, and ambient air pollution, which causes about three million deaths every year,” it adds.

Looking back into time, the WHO says the last 50 years has seen human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels releasing sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate.

It says that in the last 130 years, the world has warmed by approximately 0.85oC, with each of the last three decades being successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850.

Warning that sea levels “are rising, glaciers are melting and precipitation patterns are changing. Extreme weather events are becoming more intense and frequent”.

The global alert is that climate change is affecting social and environmental determinants of health which are clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

There is the need therefore for all stakeholders in Ghana, Africa and across the globe to take a front seat to deal with climate change issues in a more sustainable way.

By Eunice Menka

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