New report from Lancet Countdown highlights increasing impacts of climate change on people’s health and wellbeing
Climate change is undermining every dimension of global health monitored, states the most recent Lancet Countdown report that is tracking the connection between health and climate change.
The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown released ahead of the UN Climate Change conference COP27 in November highlights that fossil fuel dependency is undermining global health through increased climate change impacts.
The report tracks the relationship between health and climate change across five key domains and 43 indicators and states that climate change increases the risk of e.g. heat-related death and disease, infectious diseases and food insecurity. 99 researchers from 51 academic institutions and UN agencies have contributed to the report.
“Health at the mercy of fossil fuels”
The report highlights the dependency on fossil fuels as a major threat to our health. The continuous carbon intensity in the energy system, leading to record high energy related co₂ emissions in 2021, and subsidisation of fossil fuels, by some governments exceeding health budgets, are major obstacles for mitigating the negative health effects of climate change.
Heat and vulnerable groups
The report finds that:
Vulnerable people, such as adults above 65 years and children younger than one, were exposed to 3,7 billion more heatwave days in 2021 than annually in the period 1986-2005.
Heat-related deaths increased by 68 percent between 2000-04 and 2017-2021
Heat exposure affects labour productivity and puts the health of exposed workers at risk. The resulting labour loss undermines livelihoods and the socioeconomic determinants of health. Heat exposure led to 470 billion potential labour hours lost globally in 2021. Two thirds of all labour hours lost globally in 2021 were in the agricultural sector. This proportion was highest in low Human Development Index countries.
Wildfire danger and air pollution
Climate change is favoring more severe effects of wildfires. According to the report “Wildfires affect health with thermal injuries, exposure to wildfire smoke, loss of physical infrastructure, and impacts on mental health and wellbeing. Drier and hotter conditions increasingly favour the occurrence, intensity, and spread of wildfires, and undermine control efforts”.
A new subindicator in the report tracks the influence of wildfires on exposure to air pollution (PM2.5). The report finds that human exposure to days of very-high or extremely-high fire danger increased in 61 per cent of countries from 2001–04 to 2018–21. The report does not include wildfires in e.g. France in 2022, as the time limit is set to 2021.
In Europe, it is estimated that around 600 people die each year from small particles from fires, according to FMI.
Mitigation and health co-benefits
The Lancet Countdown is also monitoring indicators on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the health benefits and opportunities of including and prioritizing health in mitigation policies. The report highlights that shifting away from fossil fuels could prevent 1.2 million deaths resulting from exposure to fossil fuel-derived ambient PM2.5. Lives could also be saved from healthier diets, and more active lifestyles, according to the report.
As regards greenhouse gas reduction in the energy sector, the Lancet Countdown monitors e.g. clean household energy and their headline findings is that “despite improved access to clean fuels, biomass accounted for 31% of global household energy in 2020 and fossil fuels accounted for 26%”
“Twenty-two years into the twenty-first century, the oldest source of air pollution still prevails. Despite of the many policies implemented by national governments and promoted by global bodies, solid fuel remains by far the dominant fuel used for cooking in most low and middle income countries of South Asia and Africa. The resulting pollution is not only responsible for 2.3 million deaths directly among the solid fuel users, but a fraction of the pollutants escapes the house and can be associated with at least 20 per cent of ambient air pollution”, said Chowdhury.
The climate and health link more visible
Lancet Countdown is also tracking indicators on public and political engagement, where there are some positive developments. The report finds that:
The coverage of health and climate change in the media has increased every year
World leaders are increasingly engaging in the topic, with 60 % of the 194 countries referring to the association between climate change and health in the 2021 UN General Debate.
Climate change and infectious diseases
Another significant climate change health hazard is climate-sensitive infectious diseases. The Lancet Countdown report highlights that climate change is affecting the distribution and transmission of many infectious diseases, including vector-borne, food-borne, and waterborne diseases. Headline findings include:
the number of months suitable for malaria transmission increased by 31,3% in the highland areas of the Americas and 13,8% in the highland areas of Africa from 1951–60 to 2012–21;
the likelihood of dengue transmission rose by 12% in the same period.
There is an increasing attention to mental health effects related to climate change. The Lancet Countdown report addresses the link between climate change extremes and negative impacts on mental health.
Although marginalized and vulnerable groups are more prone to be affected by mental health impacts, young people are more prone to anxiety and other adverse mental health outcomes.
Weather extremes such as acute temperature extremes, heatwaves and humidity have been associated with worsened mental health and increased suicidality, according to the report. Worsening mental health has also been seen after wildfire incidents, documented in Australia after the bushfires from 2019-2020.
So far mental health indicators have not been developed, and the report is pointing at lack of recognition and scarcity of data, among factors hindering the development of resilience strategies.
A call to action
The Lancet Countdown includes a call to action:
“After 30 years of UNFCCC negotiations, the Lancet Countdown indicators show that countries and companies continue to make choices that threaten the health and survival of people in every part of the world. As countries devise ways to recover from the coexisting crises, the evidence is unequivocal. At this critical juncture, an immediate, health-centred response can still secure a future in which world populations can not only survive, but thrive.”
 Lancet Countdown 2022, p. 7
 Lancet Countdown 2022, p. 18
 Lancet Countdown 2022, p. 10
 Lancet Countdown 2022, p. 4
Increasing temperatures and heat waves due to climate change, combined with air pollution, constitute major health risks, and could cause an increase in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases across Europe. EXHAUSTION (Exposure to heat and air pollution in Europe – cardiopulmonary impacts and benefits of mitigation and adaptation) aims to quantify the changes in cardiopulmonary mortality and morbidity due to extreme heat and air pollution (including from wildfires) under selected climate scenarios.
EXHAUSTION has its own project website at EXHAUSTION.EU
Health | Air pollution | Heat waves
ENBEL: Connecting health and climate change research
Climate change is according to the WHO the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century. By bringing together leaders in climate change and health research the CICERO-coordinated Horizon 2020 project ENBEL will contribute with knowledge and policy advice on climate change and health links.
Climate impacts internationally | Air pollution | Heat waves | Health | Extreme weather
Quantifying health risks from heat and air pollution (HEATCOST)
HEATCOST will quantify health risks attributable to heat and air pollution (with a particular focus on air pollution from wildfires) in main world regions under selected climate scenarios and socioeconomic pathways.
Climate impacts internationally | Adaptation | Temperature changes | Air pollution | Heat waves | Health
LAMACLIMA – Land Management for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation
The LAMACLIMA project aims to advance the understanding of the coupled effects between land cover and land management, climate and the economy, informing sustainable land-based adaptation and mitigation.
Climate impacts internationally | Forests | Food and agriculture | Heat waves | Land use
RECEIPT (REmote Climate Effects and their Impact on European sustainability, Policy and Trade)
RECEIPT (REmote Climate Effects and their Impact on European sustainability, Policy and Trade) will map potential impacts and risks of climate extremes outside Europe on European socio-economic sectors.