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Climate change #1 health risk of 21st century

A new report by University College London and The Lancet, dubbed the ‘Stern Report for Health’, warns that we have seriously underestimated health risks associated with global climate disruption.

“The big message of this report is that climate change is a health issue affecting billions of people, not just an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation,” says Professor Anthony Costello of the UCL Institute for Global Health, and lead author of the report. “The impacts will be felt not just in the UK, but all around the world – and not just in some distant future but in our lifetimes and those of our children.”

According to the report, tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are likely to migrate as temperatures increase. Extreme weather events, similar to the 2003 heat wave that caused over 70,000 deaths in Europe, will occur more frequently.

Costello states there is an urgent need for health to play a larger role in the climate change debate, and calls for a major overhaul of global health systems to ensure infrastructure is prepared to cope with the coming impacts.

He also notes that ‘rich nations’ are not as prepared to handle extreme weather events as we might think; for instance, many hospital facilities in industrialized countries lack experience in managing outbreaks of tropical diseases like malaria.

The report also highlights health benefits associated with a low-carbon lifestyle, which can “reduce obesity, heart and lung disease, diabetes and stress”, and says this is a concept governments should do more to promote.

“We must develop win–win situations whereby we mitigate and adapt to climate change and at the same time significantly improve human health and wellbeing,” says Costello.

BC’s carbon tax was recently rated the most effective climate policy of its kind in Canada. Though the policy was criticized for lacking national reach, and is only environmentally effective in the medium turn, it still managed to score 22 points higher than the next best policy – hailing from Quebec.

ACT’s mandate features development of understanding around the combination of adaptation and mitigation. Our third session – on energy production and distribution in the low carbon economy – kicks off in the fall of 2009. ACT is also planning a Health session.

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