Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

No Country Immune from the Health Harms of Climate Change

CU Boulder one of 35 institutions to contribute to the 2020 Lancet Countdown report


No country – whether rich or poor – is immune from the health impacts of worsening climate change. Unless urgent action is taken, climate change will increasingly threaten global health, disrupt lives and livelihoods, and overwhelm healthcare systems, according to the 2020 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, published in The Lancet.

The authors say that the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic offers a key moment to act on climate change. Together, a joint response to converging crises offers the chance to improve public health, create a sustainable economy, and protect the environment.

“We are all hyper aware of global impacts to human health these days, and that’s evident in news coverage around the world. Similarly, we found increases in media coverage of climate change and human health around the world this year, much more than previous years,” said CIRES fellow Max Boykoff, who, along with others from CU Boulder’s Environmental Studies program, contributed to the report with an investigation into media coverage of climate change and public health. 

“The pandemic has shown us that when health is threatened on a global scale, our economies and ways of life can come to a standstill,” says Ian Hamilton, executive director of the Lancet Countdown. “The threats to human health are multiplying and intensifying due to climate change, and unless we change course our healthcare systems are at risk of being overwhelmed in the future. This year’s devastating U.S. wildfires and tropical storms in the Caribbean and Pacific, coinciding with the pandemic, have tragically illustrated that the world doesn’t have the luxury of dealing with one crisis at a time.”

New evidence from the 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 over-65s in 2019 – almost twice the previous high.

However, the 120 world-leading health and climate change academics and clinicians behind the new report say that if we take urgent action to tackle climate change – by implementing plans to deliver commitments of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2C – we can mitigate these shocks and achieve health and economic benefits instead. At the same time, these actions could reduce the risk of future pandemics because the drivers of climate change can also drive zoonotic pandemic risk (the risk of pandemics caused by infectious diseases that jump from non-human animals to humans). 


This press release was modified from The Lancet’s communications team. Read the full release here


CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.