The latest landmark Report of the Lancet Countdown was released at the end of November 2018, updating the global research on the health impacts of climate change. The title of the press release reveals the focus : Extreme heat damaging our health and livelihoods and threatening to overwhelm hospitals around the world . Using new methodology, the report estimates work hours lost to extreme heat: “153 billion hours of work were lost in 2017 due to extreme heat as a result of climate change. China alone lost 21 billion hours, the equivalent of a year’s work for 1.4% of their working population. India lost 75 billion hours, equivalent to 7% of their total working population.”
Although the 2018 report emphasizes the increasing threats related to heat, it measures 41 indicators related to disease, air pollution, extreme weather, and addresses economic and social impacts – including food security and climate migration. Regarding energy, it states “ In 2017, renewable energy provided 10.3 million jobs – a 5.7% increase from 2016. But fossil fuel extraction industries increased to 11 million – an 8% increase from 2016.” The report estimates deaths from air pollution by source attribution, with coal estimated to account for 16% of deaths globally. It also includes a new indicator mapping extremes of precipitation, identifying South America and southeast Asia among the regions most exposed to flood and drought and, on food security, the report points to 30 countries experiencing downward trends in crop yields, reversing a decade-long trend.
In addition to the main global report, national Briefings for Policymakers are provided for the Brazil, China, the EU, India, the Netherlands, Spain, U.K. and the U.S., as well as Canada. An excellent summary of the main report and the Canadian sub-report appears from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
The Briefing for Canadian Policymakers is written in collaboration with the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Public Health Association. It provides a Canada-specific view of health impacts, and makes recommendations: for example, “Phase out coal-powered electricity in Canada by 2030 or sooner, with a minimum of two thirds of the power replaced by non-emitting sources ;… increase ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in Canada and twin this with an emphasis on Just Transition Policies to support an equitable transition for people who work in the fossil fuel industry as the energy economy transforms;…. Apply carbon pricing instruments as soon and as broadly as possible, enhancing ambition gradually in a predictable manner, and integrate study of resulting air pollution-related health and healthcare impacts into ongoing policy decisions.” The report provides Canadian context for the under-appreciated topic of “Climate Change, Mental Health and Ecological Grief”, with examples from the Arctic and sub-Arctice: Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, and a study of the SOS Summer-of-Smoke , when the area around Yellowknife experienced prolonged smoke and fire exposure in 2014.
Finally, the global Countdown report warns that “A lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens both human lives and the viability of the national health systems they depend on, with the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm health services.” It points to the growth of health-related advocacy groups , the divestment from fossil fuels, (including by the Canadian Medical Association), and the need for climate change-related training for health professionals. The Canadian report also addresses this need for training for health professionals, stating: “A well-trained workforce is required to respond to these challenges. The Canadian Public Health Association’s Ecological Determinants Group on Education has been working to integrate an ecosocial approach into public health education, including facilitating the participation of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students in an International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations initiative which seeks to see climate change and health gain a foothold in curricula by 2020 with fuller integration by 2025.”
The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change is a global, interdisciplinary report funded by the Wellcome Trust, and researched through the collaboration of 27 academic institutions and inter-governmental organizations. The full report is here (registration required).