According to a new Commission published in The Lancet, the human health threat from climate change is so big that it may reverse the last 50 years’ worth of gains in development and global health.

The technologies and finances required to address this potentially catastrophic risk can be made available but the global political will for implementation is lacking, study authors noted. However, tackling the climate change can also benefit health and can prove to be one of the greatest health opportunities of the 21st century.

The report explains how the direct health impacts come from the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (eg, heat waves, floods, droughts, storms). The indirect health impacts come from changes in infectious disease patterns, air pollution, food insecurity, malnutrition, involuntary migration, and displacement and conflicts.

The climate change also brings health benefits in the following ways:

  • Burning fewer fossil fuels reduces respiratory diseases.
  • Active transport (eg, walking, cycling) cuts pollution and road traffic accidents, and reduces rates of obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
  • Diet changes, in an effort to tackle climate change, can result in eating less red meat.

In addition, the report contains recommendations to allow an effective response to climate change to protect and promote human health.

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The authors call for a new global independent body (Countdown to 2030: Climate Change and Health Action) on climate change and health to monitor and report every two years on the health impacts of of: climate change, progress in mitigation policies and their interaction with health, and progress with broader actions to reduce population vulnerability, to build climate resilience, and to implement low carbon, sustainable health systems.

The Commission is comprised of European and Chinese climate scientists, geographers, social and environmental scientist, biodiversity experts, engineers, energy policy experts, economists, political scientists, public policy experts, and health professionals.

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