Climate change and health highly interlinked:WHO

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Earth Journalism Network, Paris

While negotiators are busy reaching a strong climate agreement in Paris, thousands miles away, Beijing rings its first “red alert” on heavy air pollution. With 7 million people die from air pollution each year, the alert on climate health goes beyond China.

Dr. Margaret Chan, who is the director-general of World Health Organization (WHO), urged all countries to reach a strong climate treaty in Paris.

“It’s not just a treaty to save the planet, but also to solve health problems worldwide”, said Dr. Chan during a side event on tuesday at climate change conference in Paris. 

Richard Charles Horton, chief editor of highly reputed medical journal the Lancet, said climate change is bringing serious threat to global health system.

 According to World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution is the largest environmental health risk globally. It is responsible for about 7 million deaths worldwide each year – 3 million  from indoor and 4 million more from outdoor air pollution.

The health impact goes beyond air pollution, clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter are under threat too.

 By 2030, climate change will be causing an additional 250,000 deaths each year from malaria, diarrhoeal disease, heat stress and under-nutrition. Considering deaths from extreme weather events like heatwaves, droughts and floods, the number would be more shocking.

According to Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change  2015,it is the greatest global health threat of the 21st century.

“There are robust evidences of climate change impacting our health, including changing patterns of diseases,” said Richard Charles Horton. Already, the range of dengue and malaria have expanded vastly due to changing climate.

Dr. Chan said public health sector was ready to bring its critical evidence and positive arguments to the climate talks here in Paris, yet understandings across sectors need to be addressed.

Health impacts from short-lived climate pollutants is one such example. From public health perspective, it’s not only carbon dioxide that matter, black carbon and ozone are also causing serious problems.  Pollutants from air can cast further impacts as they circulate in water and soil ecosystem, resulting into acid rain, unsafe drinking water,reduction on crop production and melting glacier.

According to Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan from the University of California, carbon and methane emissions cut is technologically and economically viable. He added that reducing black carbon alone could significantly lessen the impacts of climate change, save millions of lives and improve health situation of the most vulnerable communities. “If we only focus on reducing carbon dioxide emission, there is no chance we can achieve 2℃ target”, added Dr. Ramanathan.