Climate change will kill millions but you knew that already

It’s no surprise, but an analysis has predicted deadly heatwaves, more deaths from starvation, and a boom in mosquito-borne diseases thanks to climate change

We’ll pay a huge price in lost lives and ill health if we fail to tackle climate change. That’s the warning from a consortium of experts who have forecasted how the changing climate is likely to affect our health.

“This is the major health threat in the 21st century around the world, and there’s an urgent need for us to address it,” says Hugh Montgomery of University College London, co-chair of the consortium that produced the report, called The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change.

But if we work harder to switch to clean energy sources, we’ll likely see huge health improvements, the report says.

If things carry on as they are, the biggest effect will be hunger, especially in poorer countries, as rising temperatures drive down farming productivity. For every 1 degree rise in average global temperature, wheat and rice yields are expected to decline by 6 and 10 per cent, respectively.

Earlier this year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that for the first time in almost two decades, the number of undernourished people has begun to rise, climbing to 422 million people in Africa and southern Asia, up from 398 million back in 1990. Worse will follow, warns the new report, if the temperature keeps rising.

Rising heat will also directly take a toll on health. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of people exposed to heatwaves increased by 125 million. A record 175 million people endured heatwaves in 2015 alone, and the report forecasts a billion additional “heatwave exposures” by 2050. Periods of high heat can be particularly deadly for babies, young children and older people.

Climate change is also likely to spread diseases into new areas. Rising temperatures will enable tropical mosquitoes to spread viruses causing dengue and other fevers into new areas. Up to 100 million people get dengue every year, but this is set soar higher as the geographical range of mosquitoes expands.

Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are the two main species of dengue-transmitting mosquitoes. The report estimates that the number of these two species the Earth can support have increased by 9 and 11 per cent, respectively, since the 1950s. “Cases have been doubling every decade since 1990,” says Montgomery.

Read more: Fighting climate change is opportunity to improve public health

More on these topics: