“We’re only as healthy as our planet.” Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, spoke those words at a COP23 side event on the connection between health and climate change. Climate change is a complex issue, with fingers impacting everything from agriculture to political conflicts. When it comes to health, climate change is greatly impacting something important to everyone : the ability to live and lead a healthy life.
The impacts of climate change on health are many. Rising temperatures alone will lead to heat stress, more air pollution, and more frequent and stronger extreme weather events. Changes in weather will allow diseases and disease-carrying insects to travel to further. A recent study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is clear about this topic : heat-related deaths alone will increase mortality in all regions if actions are not taken. The World Health Organization has stated that these impacts will target women more than men, and children will be particularly affected.
There are a few benefits of climate change’s impact on human health. In terms of climate change communication, many people see climate change as a serious issue, but one that does not, and will not, impact them. The threats of climate change can seem like problems that may impact people on a small island in the Pacific, or future generations. By focusing on the health impacts of climate change, we can exemplify how climate change is not a problem for people in another location or future generations, but everyone, everywhere, right now.
Our focus now needs to be threefold. There needs to be work done to reach the goals set out by the Paris Agreement to lessen the impact on human health. For those impacts we’re already facing or can no longer mitigate, we need to increase public health outreach. Lastly, we need to use the knowledge of climate change’s impacts on health that we have to show people that climate change is a problem that is here now and can, and will, impact everyone.
Casey Catherine Miller is a the delegation lead for Young European Leadership. A recent Environmental Science MSc graduate, she is passionate about environmental education and communication, youth capacity building, and sustainable development. www.caseycatherine.com.
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