Climate | ~ 4 min read

Health is wealth?

The summer of 2023 saw the highest global temperatures since records began in 1940. While climate change is becoming increasingly evident, the significant impact on health is much less visible.

July 2023 was the hottest month globally on record, according to Europe’s Copernicus Programme. It coincided with several extreme weather events including lengthy droughts, devastating floods and intense wildfires. These heat and weather events have a very visible and destructive impact on nature, but their impact on health is less obvious:

  • Smoke and air pollution contributes to respiratory diseases and greater incidence of asthma.
  • Viruses typical to tropical regions, such as West Nile and Dengue, have now been detected in Europe.
  • Floods are an increasing risk to the spread of cholera.
  • Excessive heat is associated with higher cardiovascular mortality and morbidity.

These increasing health risks have social implications too. While climate change is a concern for all, there is a significant disparity in health impact due to socioeconomics, age and location. Low-income populations are often disproportionately affected by poorly equipped buildings, the lack of both green spaces and water nearby, and low-paid outdoor employment, according to Human Rights Watch. These issues, alongside the direct impact of climate change on food security and affordability, create another layer of health inequality.

Health in a higher temperature world

The scale and rising complexity of these health issues point to a need for significant investment. Opportunities are emerging to invest in research and development of vaccines against viruses transmitted through mosquitos. Meanwhile, to tackle higher temperatures, the United Nations Environment Programme is supporting national heat plans to cool cities by bringing nature back into urban areas. Strategies to improve thermal performance and reduce the energy consumption of buildings are also being established1.

As recognition grows of the interplay between climate change and health, we are encouraged by the first ever Health Day set to take place at COP 28 in Dubai at the end of this year. This will host the first climate-health discussion group aiming to build consensus on priority actions for the global health system’s response to climate change.

Look out for our article in November addressing this topic and our other expectations for COP 28.

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