From floods to droughts, natural disasters worldwide have long demonstrated the devastating effect climate change can have on local and sometimes entire populations, with developing countries usually suffering the most from extreme weather conditions.
However, the effects of climate change on our health have largely been absent from public debate and awareness in the medical community is surprisingly low.
In a review published by the Annals of Global Health however, medical professionals are now warning of the threat climate change poses to our ability to grow quality food, access clean water and breath clean oxygen.
Just a tiny fraction of greenhouse gases are caused by low-income countries, yet it is those very countries that are most exposed to the dangers of climate change. This will become especially evident should no action be taken to keep global warming below 2 degrees (or even better 1.5 degrees) Celsius.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has already argued that climate change needs to be viewed as a global health emergency, which not only affects health through heat-related disorders but increases the global risk of mosquito-borne disease, food and waterborne illness, malnutrition, respiratory and allergic disorders and even mental health.
In developing countries, the burden of the poor is reflected in the kind of work people do, explains Jonathan A. Patz, Director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin. “Women and adolescent girls generally assume primary responsibility for gathering water, food and fuel for their households. Climate change-induced droughts make this work much more difficult,” he said.
But even in Europe and the United States, the negative health effects of climate change are visible as countries keep investing in fossil fuels, which both drive climate change and cause serious health problems in developed nations by significantly contributing to air pollution.
And air pollution is responsible for more than 400,000 premature deaths in Europe annually.
Those working outside in the pollution-ridden capitals of Europe or living close to fossil-fuel burning sites have a significantly higher risk of suffering from pneumonia, heart disease, pulmonary disease or even cancer.
The Annals of Global Health review is now urging global leaders to act fast and protect poor people, women, children and the elderly from the potentially devastating health consequences of climate change.