The 2021 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change report, which offers important updates on the relationship between climate change and public health, released on Thursday sounded a “code red” for a healthy future. The data from the new report shows that key trends are worsening and exacerbating already existing health and social inequities.
The annual report tracks 44 global indicators on links between health and climate change. This year’s data shows that rapid increases in heatwave and wildfire exposure, drought, changes in the suitability for infectious diseases and rising sea levels -- combined with insufficient adaptation measures -- are harming public health all over the world.
The effect of heatwaves on vulnerable populations is particularly alarming. In 2020, the elderly (people over the age of 65) were affected by 3.1 billion more days of heatwave exposure, compared to an average of 2.9 billion days a year over the previous decade. In India, the vulnerability to extremes of heat in 2019 was almost 31, which is 15% higher than in 1990. India, worryingly, is one of the five countries with the highest exposure of vulnerable populations over the past five years, and exposure is following an increasing trend, the report explains. Chinese, American, Japanese, and Indonesian senior citizens were also among the most affected.
The data also measured the effect of heatwaves on people’s mental health by analysing over six billion tweets over five years from Twitter users around the world. They found a 155% increase in negative expressions during heatwaves in 2020 relative to the 2015-2019 average.
While the word continues to deal with covid-19, the report also revealed that climate change and its drivers are creating ideal conditions for the transmission of infectious diseases. This could potentially undo decades of progress to control diseases such as dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika, malaria, and cholera. Moreover, healthcare systems are not adequately prepared for current and future climate-induced health shocks, the report explains. Only 45 (49%) of 91 countries in 2021 reported having carried out a climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment.
Only eight out of these 45 countries in the analysis reported that their assessments of the effects of climate change on their citizens’ health had influenced the allocation of human and financial resources. The survey found that 69% of countries in this analysis reported insufficient financing was a barrier to implementing these plans.
“This is our sixth report tracking progress on health and climate change and unfortunately we are still not seeing the accelerated change we need,” Maria Romanello, lead author of the Lancet Countdown report, says in a release. “At best the trends in emissions, renewable energy and tackling pollution have improved only very slightly. This year we saw people suffering intense heatwaves, deadly floods and wildfires. These are grim warnings that for every day that we delay our response to climate change, the situation gets more critical.”