Health issues linked to climate change are increasing, report finds

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An Oct. 20 report from The Lancet Countdown found human-induced climate change is negatively impacting human health in nearly every measurable way.

The report, co-published by the American Public Health Association, drew on the expertise of individuals across 43 academic and UN institutions. 

Experts reported on 44 indicators organized into five domains: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerabilities; adaptation, planning, and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement.

Three new indicators were added to the 2021 report: incorporating considerations of mental well-being by tracking the effect of heat on expressed online sentiment; capturing the influence of heat on safe physical activity; and tracking consumption-based greenhouse gas and fine particle matter emissions.

Four key findings: 

  • Climate change is a major driver of the increase in the number of dengue virus infections, which have doubled every decade since 1990. Arboviruses are likely to have a similar response.

  • Nearly 60 percent of countries had an increase in the number of days people were exposed to very high or extremely high fire danger in 2017–2020 compared with 2001–2004 while 72 percent of countries had increased human exposure to wildfires across the same period.

  • Children younger than 1 year were affected by 626 million more person-days of heatwave exposure and adults older than 65 years were affected by 3.1 billion more person-days of heatwave exposure in 2020 than the 1986–2005 average.

  • Nearly 70 percent of countries showed increases in average sea surface temperature in 2018-2020 compared with in 2003–2005.

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