People living in the contemporary era are really perceiving the abnormal climate change. Winters are getting warmer, while summer extremes weather are becoming more frequent. "hottest years" are breaking records every year, with 8 of the 10 hottest years on historical record occurring in the past 10 years, which bring large-scale forest fires and droughts, while coastal plains and island countries will face the threat of sea inundation.
It is also deeply worrying that current climatic conditions are becoming more and more suitable for the spread of disease. Take Dengue virus as an example, nine of the 10 most suitable years for Dengue transmission have occurred since 2000. According to media reports, as of July 20, more than 146 thousand people in the Philippines were confirmed as infected with Dengue fever this year, 98% higher than the same period in 2018. And in Brazil, as of October 12, a total of 1.489 million cases of Dengue fever were reported this year, an increase of 690% over the same period last year.
If the world does not act and current trends continue, children born today will face lifelong health risks from rising temperatures in infancy and into old age, according to the Lancet 2030 countdown: Health and Climate Change 2019 (called “the report”, for short), published by the Lancet on November 14.
Climate change affects the health of future generations
Global average temperatures are already 1°C above pre-industrial levels, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels. The report shows that the world has made only intermittent progress in reducing fossil fuel consumption in recent years. In 2018, global carbon dioxide emissions are still rising, and if the status continues, children born today will live in a world where the average global temperature is more than 4°C higher when they are 71yeas old. The impact of this process will last almost the whole lifetime of them.
Crop failure led to malnutrition. Rising temperatures will reduce crop yields then raise food prices. Infant malnutrition will cause long-term harm to children health, such as growth retardation, decreased immunity and so on. According to the report, since the 1960s, the average yield potential of crops in China has generally declined, including maize (-4%), winter wheat (-5%), soybean (-4%) and rice (-3%).
Increased risk of infectious diseases. Children are susceptible to infectious diseases. Like the Vibrio, which is the main cause of most diarrheal diseases worldwide, can multiply and spread in double number of suitable days than 30 years ago. The global adaptability of Vibrio cholerae has increased by nearly 10%; while Dengue has become the world's fastest spreading mosquito-borne viral disease. The report points out that since 1950, the reproductive capacity and biting frequency of mosquitoes in China have increased systematically, and the carrying capacity and infectious capacity of diseases by mosquitoes have increased by 8%.
Air pollution impairs heart and lung function. Children born today will grow up breathing lower quality air because of the burning of fossil fuels, and the atmosphere's stability hinders the spread of pollutants. Compared with adults, adolescents suffer more serious hazards because their hearts and lungs are still developing, including decreased lung function, worsening asthma, increased risk of heart disease and stroke. According to the report, in 2016, the number of premature deaths caused by outdoor air pollution in China reached 9000 thousand.
Increased mortality associated with heat exposure. Children born today will face increasingly severe extreme weather events throughout adulthood, with heat-related death rates rising sharply. According to the report, compared with the average level in 1986-2015, the person-time of heat wave exposure events in 2018 increased by 52.1 million, nearly one third of the people over 65 years old suffered from the threat of high temperature exposure, and urban elderly residents with chronic diseases were most vulnerable to high-temperature-related diseases such as stroke and kidney disease.
Can modern medicine adequately address the wide range of health hazards associated with climate change? Gong Peng, one of the authors of the report and director of the Earth System Science Department at Tsinghua University, is not optimistic: "These challenges posed by climate change interact with social and environmental factors that affect health, posing an unprecedented threat to human health that is likely to offset the progress made in public health over the past half century."
Two options: "Business as usual" or "Immediate action"
The Paris Agreement sets a global target of a global average temperature rise of less than 2°C compared with pre-industrialization, and strives to control it within 1.5°C. If that happens, children born today will see a very different scenario: a shift from coal towards more solar and wind power in the UK and Canada before the age of six and 11, r; Before the age of 21, France banned the sale of gasoline and diesel cars; By the age of 31, the world will achieve net zero emissions, and the air, drinking water and food will be cleaner.
However, many indicators suggest that the world is on a path towards "business as usual". According to the data of the report, from 2016 to 2018, the proportion of global energy supply from coal increased by 1.7%; Global subsidies for fossil fuel consumption have increased by 50%, reaching a peak of nearly $430 billion in 2018.
The report argues that people now need to choose between two paths: "business as usual" or effective measures to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C.
However, in front of people is a huge practical dilemma, environmental issues behind the existence of complex economic interests and political disputes, some stakeholders are good at shirking responsibility or even deny global warming. At the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, only 28 countries mentioned the issue of health and climate change, of which 10 were from small island countries. This month, the U.S. government announced the formal start of the withdrawal process from the Paris Agreement. This irresponsible practice has attracted widespread criticism from the international community.
"The next generation faces an unprecedented challenge, but governments around the world have not yet responded adequately to meet it," said Richard Horton, chief editor of The Lancet.
Of course, people's efforts for environmental protection can’t be ignored. The report has also brought some gratifying changes: As a promoter of low-carbon development, China's investment in new coal-fired power plants decreased by 55% in 2017; In 2018, renewable energy employment accounted for 43% of the world's total; Fossil energy subsidies fell to $44.44 billion in 2018, no longer the world's largest fossil energy subsidies.
What does the Lancet suggest?
Recently, Swedish environmental girl Greta Sandberg's speech at the United Nations Climate Conference caused controversy in China's cyberspace public opinion space, but this part of the criticism is not against "environmental protection" itself. According to the Survey Report on Public Awareness of Climate Change and Climate Communication in China (2017), the public in China is generally aware of the ongoing climate change and expresses concern about it, which is as high as 79.8%.
As of March this year, the student strike represented by Greta Sandberg has gone to more than 120 countries and regions around the world, and 1 million students have responded to Greta Sandberg's call to strike and protest, demanding that those in power pay attention to environmental protection.
The report points out that human opportunities to improve public health are constantly losing, and the younger generation who now set off a wave of global strikes is the most affected by climate change. "The path chosen in today's world will determine the future of our children, with irreversible effects," said Dr Stella Hartinger of the University of Cayetano Heredia in Peru. "Millions of young people have launched a climate strike to demand urgent action, and we must respond."
The authors of the Lancet countdown to 2030 call for a global response to reverse the dramatic health impacts of climate change, with action in four key areas:
1. Rapid, urgent and complete phase-out of coal-fired power plants on a global scale.
2. Ensure that high-income countries fulfil their climate finance commitments to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to help low-income countries deal with climate change.
3. Build more convenient, economic and efficient public transport systems to encourage walking and cycling through bicycle lane construction, bicycle rental or purchase schemes.
4. Make major investments in health systems and upgrade emergency and medical services to cope with the medical pressures caused by climate change.
At the same time, the report puts forward seven policy recommendations for China:
1. Identify groups most vulnerable to extreme heat and implement more targeted protective measures.
2. Take effective measures to protect the high temperature working environment.
3. Further study the impact mechanism of climate change on disease and human health, and formulate more targeted preventive measures.
4. Further reduce fossil energy subsidies and shift funds to support renewable energy development.
5. Integrate the air quality improvement and health co-benefits of greenhouse gas emission reductions into cost-benefit analyses of climate change policymaking.
6. Continue to promote the process of coal removal, while properly handling the corresponding social problems.
7. Health practitioners should strengthen their participation in media campaigns, increase media attention and jointly improve public awareness of climate change and health.