Nav: Home

Climate action urgently required to protect human health in Europe

June 03, 2019

EASAC is the voice of independent science advice, mobilising Europe's leading scientists from 27 national science academies to guide EU policy for the benefit of society. By considering a large body of independent studies on the effects of climate change on health, and on strategies to address the risks to health, EASAC has identified key messages and drawn important new conclusions. The evidence shows that climate change is adversely affecting human health and that health risks are projected to increase. Solutions are within reach and much can be done by acting on present knowledge, but this requires political will. With current trends in greenhouse gas emissions, a global average temperature increase of over 3°C above pre-industrial levels is projected by the end of the century. The increase will be higher over land than the oceans, exposing the world population to unprecedented rates of climate change and contributing to the burden of disease and premature mortality. Health risks will increase as climate change intensifies through a range of pathways including:
  • Increased exposure to high temperatures and extreme events such as floods and droughts, air pollution and allergens;
  • Weakening of food and nutrition security;
  • Increased incidence and changing distribution of some infectious diseases (including mosquito-borne, food-borne and water-borne diseases);
  • Growing risk of forced migration.
EASAC emphasises that the top priority is to stabilise climate and accelerate efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The economic benefits of action to address the current and prospective health effects of climate change are likely to be substantial.

Working Group co-chair, Professor Sir Andy Haines (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine), comments, "If urgent action is not taken to reduce emissions in order to keep temperatures below the 2°C (or less) limit enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement, we face potentially irreversible changes that will have wide ranging impacts on many aspects of health. The scientific community has an important role in generating knowledge and countering misinformation. We hope that this comprehensive report will act as a wake-up call and draw attention to the need for action, particularly by pursuing policies to decarbonise the economy. The protection of health must have a higher profile in policies aimed at mitigating or adapting to the effects of climate change". Key messages addressed in the report include:
  • Several hundred thousand premature deaths annually in the EU could be averted by a 'zero-carbon' economy through reduced air pollution

    Pollution endangers planetary health, damages ecosystems and is intimately linked to global climate change. Fine particulate and ozone air pollution arise from many of the same sources as emissions of greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants. For the EU overall, fossil-fuel-related emissions account for more than half of the excess mortality attributed to ambient (outdoor) air pollution. A recent estimate suggests that about 350,000 excess deaths annually in the EU can be attributed to ambient air pollution from burning fossil fuels and a total of about 500,000 from all human-related activities.

    Understanding of the range of health effects of air pollution on the health of children and adults is growing. Seven million babies in Europe are living in areas where air pollution exceeds WHO recommended limits and such exposure may affect brain development and cognitive function. Action to reduce pollution through decarbonisation of the economy must be viewed as a priority to address both climate change and public health imperatives.
  • Promotion of healthier, more sustainable diets with increased consumption of fruit, vegetables and legumes and reduced red meat intake will lower the burden of non-communicable diseases and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Promoting dietary change could have major health and environmental benefits, resulting in significant reductions of up to about 40% in greenhouse gas emissions from food systems as well as reducing water and land use demands. Such diets can also lead to major reductions on non-communicable disease burden through reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and other conditions.

    If food and nutrition security declines because of climate change, the EU can probably still satisfy its requirements by importing food. But this will have increasing consequences for the rest of the world; for example, by importing fodder for livestock from arable land that has been created through deforestation. It is therefore vital to develop climate-smart food systems to ensure more resilient agricultural production and to promote food and nutrition security, for the benefit of human health.
  • Climate action could avert a significant increase in the spread of infectious diseases

    The spread of infectious diseases in Europe could increase through climate change. These diseases include those that are spread by vectors (particularly mosquitos) and food- and water-borne infections. There is also an increased risk to animal health across Europe from conditions such as Blue tongue virus.

    Distribution of the mosquito species Aedes albopictus, known to be a vector for diseases such as dengue, is already expanding in Europe and may extend to much of Western Europe within the next decade.

    Water-borne infections such as diarrhoea may increase following heavy rainfall and flooding and higher temperatures may be associated with increased antibiotic resistance for pathogens such as E. coli. In the case of Salmonella species, an increase in temperature will increase multiplication and spread in food and increase the risks of food poisoning. There could also be an increase in Norovirus infections related to heavy rainfall and flooding. Strengthening communicable disease surveillance and response systems should be a priority for improving adaptation to climate change.
  • Providing evidence of the health benefits of action on climate change may be instrumental in achieving rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions

    Although the EU is actively engaged in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to identify suitable adaptation measures, the impacts of climate change on health have been relatively neglected in EU policy. Recognising the serious challenges that climate change poses to the global health gains made in recent decades is key to promoting public engagement.

    Furthermore, the impact of climate change in other regions can have tangible consequences in Europe and the EU has responsibilities in addressing problems outside its area.

    The EU must do more to ensure that health impact assessment is part of all proposed initiatives, and that climate and health policy is integrated with other policy priorities including coordinating strategies at EU and national level. It is also vital that the steps are taken to counter misinformation about the causes and consequences of climate change which threaten to undermine the political will to act.
-end-
About the European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EASAC)

EASAC is formed by the national science academies of the EU Member States, Norway, and Switzerland, to collaborate in giving advice to European policy-makers. EASAC provides a means for the collective voice of European science to be heard. Through EASAC, the academies work together to provide independent, expert, evidence-based advice about the scientific aspects of European policies to those who make or influence policy within the European institutions.

Contact information

Ms Janet Joy
EASAC Communications
Email: janet.joy@easac.eu
Mobile: +44 7951 393984
Landline: +44 1225 891 511

Dr Robin Fears
EASAC Biosciences Programme Director
Email: robin.fears@easac.eu
Mobile: +44 7597 308 284

Professor Sir Andy Haines
Co-Chair of the EASAC Working Group on Climate Change and Health
Andy.Haines@lshtm.ac.uk
(phone contact via Janet Joy)

European Academies' Science Advisory Council, Leopoldina - Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#530 Why Aren't We Dead Yet?
We only notice our immune systems when they aren't working properly, or when they're under attack. How does our immune system understand what bits of us are us, and what bits are invading germs and viruses? How different are human immune systems from the immune systems of other creatures? And is the immune system so often the target of sketchy medical advice? Those questions and more, this week in our conversation with author Idan Ben-Barak about his book "Why Aren't We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System".