More and more unbearable heat waves. Disasters forcing entire populations to move. Favored infectious diseases and more frequent epidemics. Agriculture that can no longer feed the population and compromised access to water. Less and less breathable air which causes or promotes respiratory diseases, cancers, diabetes or mental illnesses... All over the world, global warming directly threatens the health of populations.
“Dependence on fossil fuels is not just an act of environmental vandalism. From a health point of view, this is an act of self-sabotage,” argues Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Who insists: the impact of climate change on health must occupy “a central place in the negotiations” of COP28, which opens Thursday in Dubai and which, for the first time in the history of this annual meeting climate, will host a Health Day on Sunday.
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According to the latest IPCC report, 3.5 billion people, or almost half of humanity, live in areas very vulnerable to climate change. But no human being is truly safe and experts expect “an increase in human mortality and morbidity” directly linked to warming. “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause around 250,000 additional deaths per year, due to undernutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress alone,” estimates the WHO. It estimates that the direct costs of warming on health (without even counting important sectors such as agriculture, water and access to hygiene) will be between 2 and 4 billion dollars per year by 2030.
Thus, heat-related deaths among those over 65 have increased by 70% worldwide in twenty years. With 2°C warming by 2100, an additional 520 million people would find themselves in moderate or severe food insecurity by mid-century. Nearly 99% of the world's population already breathes air that exceeds the limits set by the World Health Organization, with, according to some, risks comparable to, or even greater than, those of tobacco or alcohol; each year according to the WHO, 4 million people die prematurely due to outdoor air pollution, and 7 million due to indoor air pollution. According to a Lancet report, dengue transmission could jump by 36% with global warming of 2°C by 2100, and warming of the oceans will be conducive to the transmission of the bacteria responsible for cholera. Not to mention the devastation on mental health, between increased climate anxiety and the direct effects of pollution and heat on brain functioning.
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COP negotiators are therefore “responsible for the well-being of our most precious asset: the health of people around the world”. Alas, notes the organization in a report examining “nationally determined contributions”, promises made by countries to achieve the global goals set in the Paris Agreement: currently, “only 2% of adaptation financing and 0.5% of global climate change funding is currently allocated to projects that explicitly aim to protect or improve human health.”