Climate change represents the greatest public health challenge of the 21st century.
Climate change has profound implications for human health, today and in the future. The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change concluded that:
- the effects of climate change are being felt today, and future projections represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health
- tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century
- the health community has a vital part to play in accelerating progress to address climate change
Current or projected health effects of climate change include:
- increased morbidity and mortality from heat waves, droughts, floods, wildfires, and other natural disasters
- increased incidence of food-borne, water-borne, and vector-borne diseases
- increased under-nutrition and food insecurity
- increased incidence and severity of asthma and other respiratory diseases
- violent conflict resulting from competition among nations for scarcer resources
- climate refugees displaced by violent conflict, rising sea levels, or economic scarcity, with associated refugee health issues
Reduced greenhouse gas emissions will result in important health co-benefits:
- Decreased fossil fuel burning will reduce harmful air pollutants.
- A shift from animal agriculture (a major source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas) toward plant agriculture will result in a healthier diet.
- Improved infrastructure for walking, bicycling, and public transportation will increase physical activity.
- Decreased fossil fuel extraction will reduce occupational and environmental hazards.
- facilitate innovative interdisciplinary research to understand the health impacts of climate change and of human activities that cause climate change, and to develop mitigation and adaptation solutions;
- provide a comprehensive educational program in climate change and health that trains future leaders;
- utilize public health science to support governmental and civil society efforts to mitigate or strategically adapt to climate change and to achieve climate justice; and
- contribute to local, national, and international scholarly efforts to summarize and track the effects of climate change on health, along with progress toward solutions.