The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in a report Monday that climate change’s impact on public health will be particularly dire for the most vulnerable populations.
In the report, the United Nations health body warned climate change risks the rollback of half a century in global health progress. As in other areas, these impacts will be felt first and most acutely by those who have made the least contribution to climate change.
Specific health risks associated with increasing temperatures include injuries from extreme weather, heat-related illnesses, water-borne diseases, vector-born diseases, malnutrition and zoonoses, or diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. The climate crisis will also increase adverse mental health outcomes and strain the health care system.
The extent of climate change-related health effects over time will depend largely on what immediate action is taken to mitigate emissions, the report says. The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change warned in a report earlier this year that international governments must take immediate action to avert warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The report makes 10 recommendations to offset these effects, including committing to an equitable recovery from the pandemic, building up health resilience to risks from climate change, the creation of energy systems with an eye on climate and health and more sustainable urban design with improved access to public transportation.
In a statement, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the report illustrates the stakes ahead of November’s COP26 international climate summit.
“The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people. WHO calls on all countries to commit to decisive action at COP26 to limit global warming to 1.5°C – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s in our own interests,” he said in a statement. “WHO’s new report highlights 10 priorities for safeguarding the health of people and the planet that sustains us.”
COP26 is set to take place Oct. 31-Nov. 12.