Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
Monday, October 30, 2017

2017 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change Released

CIRES’ Max Boykoff contributed to comprehensive, UK-led report on critical connections between climate change and human health

Climate change is unequivocally affecting the health of people around the world today, with a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, according to an international report published today in the prestigious medical journal Lancet.

The delayed response to climate change during the past 25 years has already jeopardized human life and livelihoods around the globe, concluded the report, whose 55 authors includes CIRES Fellow Max Boykoff, a University of Colorado Boulder associate professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.

Boykoff and his colleagues contributed to the Lancet report an assessment of trends in scientific publications about climate change and human health—such papers are increasing markedly, the team found. And they found that media coverage of climate change and human health is on the rise globally, but not so in Europe or North America.

"We care about media coverage because the media help foster individual and community discussion about the challenges associated with a changing climate," said Boykoff. "And media coverage can influence policy decision making, too,” said Boykoff.

The new report, “The 2017 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change,” is an international research collaboration that provides a global overview of the relationship between public health and climate change. This year’s report follows the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change.

After considering 40 indicators, the report’s authors described several overarching conclusions:

  1. The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible, affecting the health of populations around the world, today.
  2. The delayed response to climate change over the past 25 years has jeopardised human lives and livelihoods.
  3. Health professionals are essential to drive forward progress on understanding and responding to the impacts of climate change.
  4. Although action has been historically slow, the past five years have seen an accelerated response to climate change, and in 2017, momentum is building across a number of sectors.

Report contributors include academics and technical experts from 24 institutions around the globe, such as the World Bank, World Health Organization, University College London, and Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Researchers used 40 unique indicators (including health themes such as exposure and vulnerability to climate change, mitigation techniques, and economic impacts) to assess the global response to climate change and its associated impacts on human health. For example:

  • 125 million medically vulnerable adults are exposed to heatwaves globally between 2000 and 2016.
  • 87 percent of cities globally are in breach of the World Health Organization’s air pollution guidelines.
  • Undernutrition is the largest health impact of climate change in the 21st century.
  • Over one billion people globally will need to migrate within 90 years due to a rise in sea level.
  • Weather-related disasters are up 46 percent since 2000.

The report calls for global action in the wake of these impacts, recommending:

  • Investing in climate change and public health research,
  • Scaling up financing for climate-resilient health systems, and
  • With human health concerns in mind, phasing out coal-fired power and expanding access to renewable energy to help the 2.7 billion people in the world who rely for energy on the burning of unsafe and unsustainable solid fuels.

*This story was modified from Lancet Communications.