WORLD • The Lancet Report

The Lancet Countdown, a global report that “tracks progress on health and climate change and provides an independent assessment of the health effects of climate change, the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the health implications of these actions,” was released just a few days ago. This publication provides important policy recommendations to governments, but its implications extend beyond the public sector to affect the private sector and individuals alike. It seeks to highlight the undeniability of climate change and to detail its effects on human health in different contexts, leaving us with the resounding message that climate change affects each and every one of us in some form.

The report begins by explaining that climate change is both the cause and effect of problematic environmental, health, and economic phenomena: it is brought about by rising temperatures and changes in the frequency of adverse meteorological phenomena, which it then exacerbates, and it can cause changes in crop yields, the burden and distribution of infectious diseases, and ultimately population displacement and violent conflict.

These effects of climate change disproportionately impact lower-income countries (LICs) and Lower-Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) and threaten to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health related to improved nutrition, sanitation, and preventative care. Climate change therefore exacerbates the inequalities already present in today’s world, but many of its effects are widespread and indiscriminate. For example, heat waves, which are becoming ever-more present and insidious as carbon emissions increase, have been shown to decrease outdoor manual labor productivity. At the same time, the frequency of weather-related natural disasters has increased considerably since 2000, coming in at a whopping 46%.

Unfortunately, the countries hit hardest by climate change are often those that are the least equipped to deal with its ill effects, due to lacking infrastructure, human capital, or political will power. The report estimates that “the total value of economic losses resulting from climate related events has been increasing since 1990, totaling US $129 billion in 2016.” This figure is startlingly high, but the tone used in the report is not hopeless.

Instead, even though it takes a realistic approach, it still offers some optimism as it outlines productive measures that have been taken and can be taken to inspire hope in the future. These include increasing the popularity of climate change risk assessments, at both the city-level and the country-level; strengthening health resistance to climate impacts; increasing the involvement of health professionals in discussions about climate change; phasing out coal-fired power; rapidly expand access to renewable energy; and encouraging the continuation of the current trend to increase sustainable travel and to reduce the dependence on motor vehicles. The good news surrounding climate change often gets overshadowed by prophecies of doom and dismay, but it is worth noting that the past five years have seen an accelerated course of action in terms of making progress against the health-impacting effects of climate change.

The potential benefits and opportunities of mitigating climate change’s effects on health are enormous, including cleaning the air of polluted cities, delivering more nutritious diets, ensuring energy, food, and water security, and alleviating poverty and social and economic inequalities. To achieve these tenable possibilities, however, the Lancet report underscores the need for international coordination and action. It is one thing for cities or countries to act alone, but this report makes it clear that we are all impacted by climate change and therefore must all fight against it. Single actors, and uncoordinated action, will not suffice to stop the speed and spread of climate change. On the contrary, both this report and the Paris Agreement of 2015 forecast that climate change will worsen in the future not only if we continue on our trajectory of increasing carbon emissions, but even if we continue at the same level of carbon emissions we witness today. As our consciousness of this problem grows, so does our individual and collective responsibility to act, both to improve the health of our fellow citizens and to creative a more economically productive and thriving world.

*Read the Report here*

Article written by Sophia QADIR


[1] Watts, Nick et al. “The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: from 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health.” The Lancet, 30 October 2017.



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