The Lancet Countdown’s 2023 report, an international collaboration involving 114 scientists and health experts, presents a grim picture of the health impacts of climate change. In a world that has already warmed by 1.14°C above pre-industrial levels, the health and survival of global populations are increasingly at risk, with projections suggesting a steep worsening of these risks without immediate action.
Rising Temperatures, Rising Health Risks
The report notes record-breaking global temperatures in 2023, with adults over 65 and infants under one year experiencing significantly more heatwave days. Heat-related deaths among the elderly have surged by 85% compared to 1990-2000. Additionally, over 60% of high-temperature days in 2020 were made more likely due to human-induced climate change. The economic losses from extreme weather events have increased by 23% from 2010-2014 to 2018-2022, amounting to $264 billion in 2022. This financial burden is coupled with a global potential income loss of $863 billion due to heat exposure, disproportionately affecting low and medium Human Development Index (HDI) countries and exacerbating global inequities.
Inequalities in Climate Impact
The report highlights the unequal burden of climate change, with vulnerable populations in low and medium-HDI (Human Development Index*) countries facing more significant health risks and less progress in adapting to these changes. Only 44% of low HDI countries and 54% of medium HDI countries reported high implementation of health emergency management capacities in 2022, compared to 85% of very high HDI countries. Projections within the report are alarming: a continued rise in global mean temperature to just under 2°C could see annual heat-related deaths increase by 370% by mid-century. The potential spread of infectious diseases, such as dengue and malaria, is also expected to rise significantly.
Towards a Health-Centered Climate Response
Despite the challenges, the report identifies opportunities for health-promoting climate action. Transitioning to renewable energy, promoting sustainable food systems, and redesigning urban environments for sustainable cooling and green spaces are recommended. The report emphasizes the crucial role of the health community in advocating for and leading these transformations. The 2023 Lancet Countdown report underscores the pressing need for a health-centered response to climate change. With each passing moment of inaction, the risks to global health and survival intensify, making immediate, robust, and equitable climate action imperative.
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Note from the study: “The Lancet Countdown is an international research collaboration that independently monitors the evolving impacts of climate change on health, and the emerging health opportunities of climate action. In its eighth iteration, this 2023 report draws on the expertise of 114 scientists and health practitioners from 52 research institutions and UN agencies worldwide to provide its most comprehensive assessment yet.” You can find the full study here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(23)01859-7/fulltext
*HDI refers to the Human Development Index. The Human Development Index is a composite statistic used to rank countries based on their levels of human development. It takes into account three key dimensions: Life Expectancy at Birth, Education, and Per Capita Income: Countries are then ranked based on their HDI value, which ranges from 0 to 1. A higher HDI value indicates a higher level of human development. The HDI is commonly used to categorize countries as low, medium, high, or very high human development nations. It’s a tool often employed in global studies and reports, like the Lancet Countdown report, to assess and compare the impact of various factors, including climate change, on different regions and populations around the world.