NOT JUST WARM WEATHER- CLIMATE CHANGE IS CRITICAL TO OUR PLANET AND HEALTH

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Photo Credit: Ecowatch

Much of the attention on Paris Agreement on climate change has focused on how it will reduce the green house gas emissions responsible for climate change. But another aspect that is just as important to its adoption and one that will be critical to the health and prosperity of countless communities moving forward is adaptation –the actions that must be taken to adjust to climate impacts like droughts, floods, erosion, and see level rise.

Climate Change gets to the very core of our relationship as human beings with the planet we call home. The reality is that, climate change is already having a profound impact on the lives of millions of Africans and their livelihood. Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

Fighting climate change provides a global opportunity to protect human health, particularly to the poorest and more vulnerable populations, who will suffer the hardest impacts of its effects.

Although global warming may bring some localized benefits, such as fewer winter deaths in temperate climates and increased food production in certain areas, the overall health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative.

“Globally, the number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters result in over 60 000 deaths, mainly in developing countries. Rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather events will destroy homes, medical facilities and other essential services. More than half of the world’s population lives within 60 km of the sea. People may be forced to move, which in turn heightens the risk of a range of health effects, from mental disorders to communicable diseases. Increasingly variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of fresh water. A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrhea disease, which kills over 500 000 children aged under 5 years, every year. In extreme cases, water scarcity leads to drought and famine. By the late 21st century, climate change is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of drought at regional and global scale (1). (According to the WHO International) “

Climate Change is one of the major global challenges of our time; its devastating impacts are undermining growth, health and welfare across the globe. Nowhere is felt more than in the world’s poorest regions, which are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Over the last 50 years, human activities – particularly the burning of fossil fuels – have released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate.

We face a new reality: disasters, chronic diseases and shocks are occurring more frequently and chronic stresses are lasting longer. Our future will be defined by three drivers; increasing complexity, where societies and ecosystems become more intertwined; global inter-connectivity, and surprise.

The International community has agreed that developed countries will mobilize at least $100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to help developing countries deploy clean energy sources and climate-proof infrastructure from worsening impacts.  However, this level of financial support has so far failed to materialize, and besides funding for adaptation has historically lagged behind that for mitigation.

Climatic conditions strongly affect water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects, snails or other cold blooded animals.

“Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases and to alter their geographic range. For example, climate change is projected to widen significantly the area of China where the snail-borne disease schistosomiasis occurs (3) (WHO International).

Malaria is strongly influenced by climate. Transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes, malaria kills over 400 000 people every year – mainly African children under 5 years old. The Aedes mosquito vector of dengue is also highly sensitive to climate conditions, and studies suggest that climate change is likely to continue to increase exposure to dengue. (WHO International)”

Though the Paris agreement calls for a balance between climate finance provided for adaptation and mitigation it dies not enumerate a specific amount. What further complicates this calculus is that determining precise numbers for these costs is difficult if not impossible because they are so intertwined with other development needs.

All populations will be affected by climate change, but some are more vulnerable than others. People living in small island developing states and other coastal regions, megacities, and mountainous and polar regions are particularly vulnerable.

Children – in particular, children living in poor countries – are among the most vulnerable to the resulting health risks and will be exposed longer to the health consequences. The health effects are also expected to be more severe for elderly people and people with infirmities or pre-existing medical conditions. Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.

The health of planet’s coral reefs is a stark reminder of the impacts a warming planet is having on ecosystems. According to Catlin sea view survey the world has lost 40% of its corals since 1985. As warming waters bleach corals, increased levels of carbon dioxide absorbed by the sea are making the oceans more acidic. Other threats include shipping and pollution run-off from the land.

Over 60 million people across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean were affected by the 2015-  El Nino, according to Oxfam. While it’s a regular event, the combination of high global temperatures added to its severity say experts, sparking floods in some regions and erratic rains in others, forcing many to leave their farmlands in search of better health, water and food.

To counteract climate change we need to understand that the Earth, the biosphere which sustains us , is an ecosystem of which we form part . And to avoid environmental catastrophe we must alleviate pollution and revitalize the ecological processes that sustain life.

Water is foremost to any ecosystem. Water cycles through the atmosphere, soil, rivers, lakes and oceans distributing nutrients to support life. This cycle involves exchange of energy, which leads to temperature changes, contributing energy flow.

The ocean is Earth’s largest supporting ecosystem, home to the most abundant life on Earth, but has long suffered as consequences of industry and growing coastal populations. The ocean is also the largest carbon sink, absorbing 90% of global warming and 30% of all carbon emissions (WMO GAW 2014) but its own ecosystems are collapsing as a consequence of pollution.

“According to the WHO key Facts, in the last 130 years, the world has warmed by approximately 0.85oC. Each of the last 3 decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850(1).

Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting and precipitation patterns are changing. Extreme weather events are becoming more intense and frequent.”

“WHO International Key facts 2017 Updates

  • Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.
  • The direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion/year by 2030.
  • Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.
  • Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.”

“Measuring the health effects from climate change can only be very approximate. Nevertheless, a WHO assessment, taking into account only a subset of the possible health impacts, and assuming continued economic growth and health progress, concluded that climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050; 38 000 due to heat exposure in elderly people, 48 000 due to diarrhoea, 60 000 due to malaria, and 95 000 due to childhood under nutrition.(WHO International ) “

We must cut greenhouse gas emissions at a much faster pace and in parallel make our societies resilient to the disruptive effects of climate change which we can no longer stop. This requires massive investment in technology solutions, health care and infrastructure.

#RaiseYourAmbitionCOP23

By :  Joe Bongay

Environmentalist / Human Rights Activist

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