Climate change and human health
Human-induced climate change – now deemed by international climate
science to be real, demonstrably underway, and apparently accelerating –
reflects the mounting pressures of human numbers and intensified economic
activity. The existence, and long-term prospect, of risks to human health
provides an important signal as to the profound nature of this extraordinary
phenomenon. This important “signal”, adequately documented and clarified
by health researchers, will reinforce the motivation of governments and their
constituencies to take rapid and radical mitigation actions.
The health risks arise variously from direct stresses (e.g. weather disasters
and heatwaves), altered ecological processes (e.g. changes in infectious
disease patterns, impaired food yields), resource conflict over depleted
resources (water, fertile land, fisheries, etc.) and population displacement.
Low-income and geographically vulnerable populations are at greatest risk.
The risks to health jeopardise the achievement of the Millennium
Development Goals. Those risks will increase over time, and afflict future
While nations strive to reduce emissions, health-protecting adaptive
strategies are needed, both for current risks and as part of longer-term
planning. Health sector adaptation initiatives should be part of a coordinated
multi-sectoral response that recognizes that protecting human health must
be a central goal of, and reason for, climate stabilization and sustainability.
Indeed, in the agenda-setting 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate
Change, damage to “health and wellbeing” is one of the three categories of
adverse effects that the Convention is intended to address, along with
damage to the natural environment and economic development.