In 2015, the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change proposed that addressing climate change may represent the greatest global health opportunity of the century.1 Subsequently, an initiative called the Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change was formed with the aim of tracking multiple indicators of climate change progress and issuing annual reports on the state of the climate until 2030. The collaboration, which includes academic institutions from each continent and experts from a wide range of disciplines, recently published the first report in the series.2

Increasing temperatures and changing frequency and strength of floods, droughts, heatwaves, and storms have direct effects on physical and mental health. In addition, the effects of climate change can arise from indirect pathways such as “changes in crop yields, the burden and distribution of infectious disease, and in climate­-induced population displacement and violent conflict,” according to the paper. 

While some of these consequences are already taking root, inaction will result in worsening global health problems and could reverse improvements in public health that have developed over the past 50 years. The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect people living in low-income and middle-income countries and thus exacerbate existing inequalities. “Urgent and substantial climate change mitigation will help protect human health from the worst of these effects, and a comprehensive and ambitious response to climate change could transform the health of the world’s populations,” the researchers stated.

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The report highlights that the global response to this crisis has been mostly scarce. “Broadly [speaking], over the past 20 to 25 years, the lack of response has put lives and livelihoods at risk in many different sectors,” Nick Watts, MD, executive director of the Lancet Countdown and director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, told Medical Bag. “We are used to talking about climate change and potential health effects in the future, but what is especially concerning is that we are already experiencing these effects today.”