The Danger of Climate Change to our Health
Climate change presents one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century, and will influence almost every aspect of our lives. As the world’s climate continues to change, our world could become a very different and harsher place to live in the future. It is essential to understand the influence climate change could have on something we often take for granted – our health.
So how exactly will climate change affect our health?
Our health is important to us; however, we don’t always give it much thought. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that climate change impacts human health in two ways:
Human health is sensitive to shifts in weather patterns. The most obvious direct impact effects of climate change include; heat stress, floods, drought and storms, for example the 2007 heatwaves that particularly affected the most vulnerable members of society.
Human health is also affected indirectly, by changes to our climate that can affect factors such as; air pollution, crop failures, the spread of diseases and post-traumatic stress, caused by natural disasters. Increasing temperatures could also negatively impact our water resources.
Will climate change have any health benefits?
Not all countries will be negatively impacted by climate change, in fact some countries will benefit, as it can lead to greater agricultural productivity. However, this is likely to be short-lived and the overall trend is that the impacts of climate change on human health will be mostly negative and increasingly so as climate change continues to progress.
What can we do to mitigate the risks associated with our health?
The effects climate change has had on our health in the past are apparent, but it’s not too late to change course. We have control over the extent in which it affects us and our health. It has therefore never been as important to consider the changes you can make to reduce the impacts of climate change.
We can do this directly by taking control of our greenhouse gas emissions, which will have a direct impact on the extent of climate change. But we must also adapt to the changes which are likely to impact our health. Therefore, it is essential that we intervene and enhance our resilience through improved management of our water supply, sanitation and health systems to be better equipped to withstand the pressures of climate change.
Climate change and health is a global concern
Sustainable development has become an integral part of wider policy as the United Nations Rio+20 summit, held in Brazil 2012, committed members to developing sustainable development goals. These goals promote sustainable development as:
“Development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Brundtland, G.H. (1987)
The 'Good Health and Well-Being' goal emphasises the importance of improving our health systems globally. In 2018, the United Nations found that more people were living healthier lives than in the past decade. However, many neglected populations are still suffering from preventable diseases and increasingly so as the impacts of climate change become more prevalent. The UN believe that overcoming disease and ill-health requires sustained efforts that focus on the vulnerable and often neglected populations globally.
So what is our health service doing to prepare for the effects of climate change on our health?
The NHS has been actively engaged in protecting our health services from the effects of climate change, and published its Sustainable Health Strategy in 2014. The strategy sets out the visions and goals of the NHS to achieve and maintain a sustainable health care system, through the implementation of 3 goals, which aim to protect and improve health now and for future generations:
Goal 1: A Healthier Environment
The NHS believe that a healthier environment can be achieved through enhancement of our natural resources. This can be achieved through further development of renewable energy technologies, which reduce pollution and our dependency on fossil fuel burning power stations.
Goal 2: Communities and services ready and resilient for changing times and climates
Through this goal, the NHS are encouraging the creation of resilient communities, which are prepared for changing climates. Multi-agency planning and collaboration between organisations is required, in order to provide guidance to vulnerable populations during periods of extreme weather events.
Goal 3: Every opportunity contributes to healthy lives, healthy communities and healthy environments
The NHS aims to use every available opportunity to enhance the information, made accessible to the public. The availability of information is perhaps the most influential in terms of minimising preventable ill-health, health inequalities and unnecessary treatment.
Find out how you can minimise the effects of climate change, by reducing your carbon footprint: