Climate change and public health outcomes: the time for collaborative action is now

A woman holds her child's hands in the window of a Vancouver highrise, the IPCC report cover looms in the background.

With the consequences of a global average warming of 1°C already being experienced through more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, melting sea ice, and impacts to human health and well-being, we must act now and quickly to limit further warming. This call to action for rapid, widespread changes was the subject of a compelling report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last week in Incheon, Republic of Korea.

IPCC 2018 report cover.The report urges that while global warming is expected to increase by 1.5°C by 2030, further inaction could lead to warming that exceeds 3°C above pre-industrial levels. Continuing down this current trajectory could have disastrous impacts to human health, including increased risks of injuries, diseases, and fatalities from extreme weather events; greater risks of undernutrition from reduced food production; decreases in labor productivity from extreme heat events and; greater risks of water-, food-, and vector borne diseases. While limiting warming to 1.5°C is achievable, the report argues, it will require “unprecedented changes” in our uses and action towards energy, land, transportation, industry, and cities. Making progress on both adaptation and mitigation of climate change requires collaborative action, and now – which is exactly why we can’t wait to gather with you on November 5-6 in Kelowna BC, for Making the Links.

What does this mean for human health?

The decisions that we make in our day-to-day lives about transportation, consumer behavior, energy and water use, and food consumption are essential for fostering a healthier, more sustainable world, both now and in the future. While there is uncertainty around whether tipping points exist for climate-related human health impacts, the report argues that exceeding a 1.5°C temperature rise would pose significantly greater risks to the health of our ecosystems, and would increase the likelihood of long-lasting, irreversible changes.

While populations are impacted disproportionately and any amount of global warming warrants significant concern for human health and well-being, the report emphasizes that limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C compared to 2°C would allow people and ecosystems more opportunity for adaptation. As an example, a warming of 1.5°C compared to 2°C would lower:

  1. The risk of temperature related morbidity and smaller mosquito geographic ranges;
  2. The exposure of 3546 to 4508 million people to heatwaves;
  3. The exposure of 496 million people exposed and vulnerable to water stress;
  4. 110 to 190 million fewer premature deaths

A global response to climate change: every bit matters

Now more than ever there is a need to accelerate our climate actions. Allowing global temperatures to increase by half a degree – to the 1.5°C levels that we are projected to reach by 2030 – is considered “unsafe” and increases the risk of significant disruption to both natural and human systems. However, the flip side of that message is that every bit of warming matters – there is no time to waste in standing up, collaborating, and making every effort to drive unprecedented action on climate change.

The big questions around what we can do to limit global warming to the 1.5°C or 2.0°C level as well as the role of collaboration in creating innovative solutions to adapt to changes that are unavoidable, are topics that will all be explored at this year’s Making the Links: Climate Change, Community Health & Resilience. Co-author of the IPCC’s “1.5 Health Report,” Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, will be presenting an engaging keynote and discussion at the symposium about the global perspective on climate change, health and resilience. Diarmid (Team Lead, World Health Organization), alongside many other leading medical health officers, city planners, environmental researchers, community leaders and others will be fostering in-depth discussion and encouraging proactive, innovative thinking on responding to climate change and building community resilience.

Join us on November 5th and 6th to explore the intersections of public health and climate change and to hear from a host of renowned climate and health specialists, including Jeremy Hess (Center for Health and the Global Environment), Emily York (Oregon Climate and Health Program), and many more. Be prepared to challenge assumptions, raise awareness, and be a part of accelerated climate action for healthy communities!