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First International “Surveillance Report” On Climate Change Published As The Lancet Countdown

US Version Also Released

Health Threats Are Here Now ---Situation Is Urgent

“Health professionals are clear-eyed about major threats to population health… We’re against dirty air and water, we’re against drunk driving, and we’re against smoking. As this report makes clear, we need to be against climate change too, because it threatens health in so many, and such serious, ways.”

That was the take home message from the University of Washington’s Howard Frumkin, a US participant in The Lancet Countdown, an international multi-disciplinary collaboration of 26 institutions to track progress on health and climate change. The purpose of the initiative is to provide annual reports on a series of at least 40 indicators across a group of five action areas considered crucial for success in combating climate change. These are:

·       Measuring Climate Change Impacts, Exposures and Vulnerability

·       Adaptation Planning and Resilience for Health

·       Mitigation Actions and Health Co-Benefits

·       Economics and Finance

·       Public and Political Engagement

The 2017 report, the first in a series to appear periodically over the next several years, has just appeared in The Lancet and is said to have reached three central conclusions:

1. The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible – affecting the health of populations around the world today.

2. The delayed response to climate change over the past 25 years has jeopardized human life and livelihoods.

3. The transition to low-carbon electricity generation is gathering pace, suggesting the beginning of a broader transformation that will benefit human health.

In a University of Washington news article about the Countdown, some of the report’s key findings were highlighted, including:

·        Researchers noted a 46 percent increase in weather-related disasters since 2000, causing $129 billion in economic loss.

·        Undernutrition is the largest health impact of climate change, with a 6 percent decline in global wheat yields and a 10 percent fall in rice yields for each additional 1 °C rise in global temperature.

·        A record 175 million people were exposed to heatwaves in 2015.

·        87 percent of cities globally are in breach of World Health Organization air pollution guidelines, exposing billions of people to unsafe levels of atmospheric particulate matter.

·        Transmission of dengue, a mosquito-borne disease, has increased by 3 percent to 5.9 percent.

A companion report providing findings nationally-relevant to the United States was prepared and presented at the 2017 APHA meeting in Atlanta by Frumkin.

He called climate change a “pressing public health issue” because it affects not just one outcome but multiple outcomes, is severe in that it threatens the very basis of civilization, and also challenges everyone’s personal beliefs requiring us to change our personal behaviors.

The companion report highlights several US relevant findings listed below:

·       Between 2000 and 2016, the average number of Americans exposed to heatwave events annually increased by an average of 14.5 million, compared to the reference period (1986-2008). 2011 was a year of extremely high risk, with nearly 130 million additional Americans exposed to heatwaves.

·        Between 1990 and 2016, the US experienced 623 instances of droughts, floods, heatwaves, wildfires and storms, resulting in at least 9,551 deaths and affecting over 110 million Americans . On average, 15 Americans lose their lives per weather-related disaster - a relatively low fraction of those affected, but still too high. Continued efforts to improve disaster preparedness and response will be needed as climate change increases the severity and frequency of weather-related disasters.

·       Climate change is contributing to changing patterns of infectious disease in the US - intensifying several risks - and is worsening allergy risks.

·       The US has made strides toward reducing its energy supply’s carbon intensity (tCO2/TJ), with 2013 levels 6.7% lower than 1990 levels. Major contributors to this are the phase-out of coal, the increased competitiveness of natural gas, the deployment of renewable and zero-carbon emission electricity sources, as well as a variety of energy and fuel efficiency measures in buildings, cars, and across manufacturing and industry.

The health effects of climate change are not some far off future event, but are already with us in the here and now says Frumkin, a Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington School of Public Health. Frumkin was speaking at the recent APHA meeting in Atlanta on the theme of climate change. lso challenges our own beliefs requiring us to change our personal behaviors.

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