London, 28 November 2018
Following today’s release of the second The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change report, the Global Climate and Health Alliance called on world leaders to take the actions required to limit global warming to the targets set by the Paris Agreement, making the greenhouse gas reduction commitments between now and 2020 that will limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“The Lancet Countdown report provides a stark reminder of the consequences for people’s health if we continue to procrastinate on climate change”, said Jeni Miller, Executive Director of the Global Climate and Health Alliance, a international coalition of health and development organisations. “With COP24 less than a week away, it’s crucial that global leaders not only deliver on their national commitments under the first phase of the Paris Agreement, but move decisively toward ramping up those commitments in 2020”.
The Lancet Countdown provides a clear and sobering account of how far humanity has – and hasn’t – come in addressing the greatest health threat of the 21st century. The findings on heat stress within this year’s report suggest staggering impact on worker productivity, with hotter temperatures costing workers 153 billion productive hours in 2017, in turn impacting family incomes and agricultural output to compound the risks to health.
“This year’s report demonstrates that climate change is already exposing hundreds of millions of people to dangerously high temperatures”, remarked Kim Perrotta, Executive Director at the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).
“Phasing out fossil fuels, and other measures to mitigate climate change, are essential to prevent significantly more global warming and substantially greater damage from heat”, stated Miller.
According to the Lancet Countdown report, crop yield has seen measured decline in 30 countries due to global warming, raising concerns about malnutrition in some regions. Risks of dengue fever, Vibrio and malaria have markedly increased. And the increases in extreme weather events, which in 2017 numbered 712 events resulting in US $326 billion in economic losses, are bringing with them injuries and deaths, displacement, post-traumatic stress, and other short and long-term impacts to health. Climate change is also driving migration in some regions, with significant geopolitical impacts.
“Many cities, health systems, and nations are working hard to adapt to these changes, but without aggressive action by national governments to drive down carbon emissions, climate change will quickly outstrip any ability to adapt sufficiently to protect people’s health”, continued Miller. “We are not yet seeing that action.”
Although 197 parties signed the Paris Agreement that emerged from the UN climate negotiations in 2015, many countries are not yet meeting their initial commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and those initial commitments fall far short of what is needed to limit global warming to below 1.5 – 2.0 degrees Celsius, as agreed to in Paris.
Delaying action not only puts people’s health at risk from climate change, but also misses the major opportunities for near term improvements to health that climate action offers. Seven million people per year die prematurely from air pollution, and the Lancet Countdown found that air quality worsened in 70% of the world’s cities in 2017. It is estimated that the health benefits of mitigating climate change to achieve the targets set in Paris could more than pay for the cost of that mitigation, from reductions in air pollution alone.
“Air pollution is the number one environmental threat to people’s health, and one of the top five risk factors for chronic disease like heart disease, cancer and asthma,” says Genon K. Jensen, Executive Director of the Health and Environment Alliance. “World leaders walking the talk on tackling climate change would give clean air and disease prevention a major boost worldwide by taking on the Lancet Countdown health recommendations”.
“Continuing to burn fossil fuels can no longer be justified in any country. All nations must look for ways to transition to forms of energy that do not drive climate change and toxic air pollution, both of which are having such devastating impacts on people’s lives around the world”, insisted Fiona Armstrong, executive director of Australia’s Climate and Health Alliance. “My own country, Australia, is shamefully ignoring the unfolding catastrophe as it continues to mine and export coal.”
“The Countdown report demonstrates the significant and immediate health benefits that can be realized by phasing out coal-fired power plants around the world and by transforming transportation systems in countries such as Canada”, added Perrotta. Indeed, the Lancet Countdown advises that coal phase-out is a “crucial, no-regrets, intervention for public health”.
The health sector is working to do its part: “The health sector is increasingly engaged in climate action, working to reduce its own substantial carbon footprint, preparing for extreme weather events and advocating for policies that will move the world away from a dependence on fossil fuels and protect the public’s health from the impacts of climate change,” said Josh Karliner, International Co-Director for Health Care Without Harm. In September, health organizations from around the world, representing over five million health professionals and 17,000 hospitals and health systems, launched a Call to Action on Climate Change and Health. “Doctors, nurses, public health workers and health care institutions around the world are joining forces to take on climate change together with so many other sectors of society to call on local and national governments everywhere to take action to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Lancet Countdown report, and the last month’s Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC SR1.5)  before it as well as the Fourth National Climate Assessment released by the United States last week, taken together, crystallize this point: urgent, aggressive action to transition away from fossil fuels and toward a global low carbon economy is essential to preventing millions of deaths this century. National governments must step up to lead the society-wide transformations that are urgently needed.
“We cannot let the hard truths presented in the 2018 Lancet Countdown report, and the IPCC and US National Climate Assessment reports before it, become an excuse for delay; instead, we must embrace them as a spur to action. We already have the tools to make the transition to a carbon-neutral world; and mitigating climate change could largely pay for itself. Doing so would save millions of lives, protecting us, our children, and their children”, concluded Miller. “The Lancet Countdown is clear: our future is in our hands.”
About Lancet Countdown:
The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: shaping the health of nations for centuries to come was compiled through a collaboration of leading research institutions and international agencies. The initiative tracks 41 indicators in several domains to provide a broad-based global overview of progress on addressing climate change and protecting health, providing a comprehensive report annually.
The report calculates that heat impact has reduced employee productivity, costing workers and economies a loss of 153 billion hours of labor last year due to heat (the equivalent of 3.2 billion work weeks), a 62 billion hour increase over 2000. Loss of productive capacity is greatest in the agricultural sector, and in already vulnerable geographies. Exposure to increased temperature is rising around the world, and Europe and the Mediterranean are especially vulnerable, with significant risk for people over 65 years old.
The Countdown report follows fast on the heels of a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, which laid out quite starkly the implications for health if we fail to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade; and the Fourth National Climate Assessment Volume II: Impacts, Risks and Adaptation in the United States. Put simply, humanity is not yet taking the actions we need to take to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.
The Lance report can be downloaded from The Lancet Countdown website: The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change.
 World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/air-pollution/news-and-events/how-air-pollution-is-destroying-our-health.
 Markandya A, Sampedro J, Smith SJ, et al. Health co-benefits from air pollution and mitigation costs of the Paris Agreement: a modelling study. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(18)30029-9/fulltext
 J. Rogelj, D. Shindell, K. Jiang, S. Fifita, P. Forster, V. Ginzburg, C. Handa, H. Kheshgi, S. Kobayashi, E. Kriegler, L. Mundaca, R. Séférian, M. V. Vilariño, 2018, Mitigation pathways compatible with 1.5°C in the context of sustainable development. In: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press
Watts N, et al. The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: shaping the health of nations for centuries to come.
Jeni Miller, Executive Director, +1-510-409-2456 [email protected]
Dave Walsh, Media Advisor +34 691 826 764, [email protected]
About the Global Climate and Health Alliance
The Global Climate and Health Alliance was formed in Durban in 2011 to tackle climate change and to protect and promote public health.
The Alliance is made up of health and development organisations from around the world united by a shared vision of an equitable, sustainable future. Our vision is a world in which the health impacts of climate change are kept to a minimum, and the health co-benefits of climate change mitigation are maximised.
Specifically, Alliance members work together to:
- Ensure that health impacts are integrated into global, regional, national and local policy responses to climate change so as to reduce them as far as possible, with a particular focus on reducing health inequalities through mitigation and adaptation;
- Encourage and support the health sector to lead by example, in mitigating and adapting to climate change;
- Raise awareness of the health threats posed by climate change and the potential health benefits of well-chosen climate mitigation policies in areas such as energy, transport, food and housing.
On 8th December, the Alliance will host the 2018 Global Climate and Health Summitalongside the international climate negotiations. The event is being convened in collaboration with the World Health Organization, the European Committee of the Regions, and the Pro Silesia Association. The annual Health Summit serves as a key anchoring event for advancing health-focused action, engagement and collaboration to address climate change.