Climate change threatens our health and survival within decades

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Climate change harms health in all populations. Heat-related illness and deaths are increasing worldwide, from heatstroke, adverse pregnancy outcomes, worsened kidney function, and adverse mental health effects.

For those working outdoors, heat limits physical work and labour productivity, undermining livelihoods. Extreme weather events cause illness (eg, through particulate pollution from fires, or water contamination from floods), direct injury (eg, physical injury and drowning), and chronic malnutrition by reducing agricultural output and increasing infections. Climate change means many infectious diseases expand into previously safe areas and could increase pandemic risk. Loss of physical assets and damage to infrastructure affect essential health and social services and socioeconomic well-being. Together, these factors drive population migration, political upheaval, and economic damage, all of which impact health.

For these reasons the 2009 Lancet Commission on managing the health effects of climate change described climate change as the “greatest global health threat of the 21st century”. However, it was wrong, both qualitatively and temporally. The threat is now to our very survival and to that of the ecosystem upon which we depend. Grave impacts of climate change are already with us and could worsen catastrophically within decades. A UN Environment Programme report states there is “no credible pathway to 1·5°C in place” today.

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