Health

Are you familiar with the "Lancet Countdown on health and climate change"? You should, it is good for your health!

Analysis with Prof. Nicolas Senn, Head of the Department of Family Medicine at Unisanté.

Posted on Dec 5, 2022

Author(s)

Aïcha Besser

Communication specialist CLIMACT

Expert(s)

Prof.
Prof. Nicolas Senn

UNIL UNISANTE

Are you familiar with the "Lancet Countdown on health and climate change"? You should, it is good for your health!

To access the full report: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(22)01540-9/fulltext

The latest Lancet Countdown 2022 report was published on October 25. Published annually, the report is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration dedicated to monitoring the changing health profile of climate change, and providing an independent assessment of whether governments around the world are meeting their commitments under the Paris Agreement.

The report tracks 43 indicators in five key areas: climate change impacts, exposures, and vulnerability; adaptation, planning, and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; economics and finance; and public and political engagement.

It is the result of collaboration among more than 99 leading experts, including climate scientists, engineers, economists, political scientists, public health professionals, and physicians from 51 leading academic institutions and UN agencies around the world, including the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, the World Bank, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and many leading academic institutions.

Interview with Prof. Nicolas Senn

Can you tell us why this report is important for public health and society as a whole?

N.S: The Lancet Countdown annual reports on health and climate change have been around since 2016. They report on human health developments related to climate change following the targets set by the Paris agreements in 2015. Each year the report highlights a specific aspect. The latest report, which was released on October 25, 2022, focuses on fossil fuels and their negative impact on health.

It is particularly important for public health and society, as it is the largest work to date linking environmental degradation related to greenhouse gas emissions and human health. The results are translated into about 50 indicators.
  

Some of them present an overview of greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment. Others highlight the impact of these degradations on human activities, whether related to work or health for example.

Some key figures from the 2022 report:

- Food insecurity: 100 million more people than in the period 1981-2010 report moderate to severe food insecurity (food supply difficulties), partly linked to climate change (drought etc.)

- Out of about 800 cities, one third of them have reduced their investments for climate actions, notably because of the Covid-19 pandemic

- The use of fossil fuels continued to increase in 2021 with record greenhouse gas emissions, with renewable energy accounting for only 2.2% of total energy supply. At the same time, the strategic oil and gas production targets of the major oil companies by 2040 are incompatible with compliance with the Paris agreements (+87% production compared to the desired target)

- The increase in mortality due to heat waves among people over 65 years old is +68% over the last 20 years.

- Air pollution with fine particles is responsible for 3.3 million deaths in 2020, 1.2 million of which are directly linked to the combustion of fossil fuels

What is the importance of this report for Switzerland?

N.S: This report is also important for Switzerland. Not only because it is a major emitter of greenhouse gases, but also because of the environmental and health consequences of climate change, which it is not immune to, such as the effects of heat waves and air pollution due to the use of fossil fuels.

Why are the impacts of climate change on health already a problem today and not just for the future?

N.S.: There are of course heat peaks that have been steadily increasing in recent years with, in some years in Switzerland, an excess of mortality that corresponds to several thousand deaths attributable to climate change. But there is also the regular increase of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, such as Dengue fever or malaria for example. Closer to us in Switzerland, there is the increase of tick-borne diseases such as borreliosis.

The increase of natural disasters, as we have seen with the gigantic forest fires, are also accompanied by health problems, especially respiratory and cardiovascular. —   

It is therefore important to realize that climate change is already having a very significant effect on the health of populations and that if nothing is done, this impact will increase significantly over the next few decades.
  
How can we prepare, mitigate and adapt?

N.S: First, we need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not only because of their direct harmfulness through fine particles and air pollution, but also to limit global warming to below 1.5°C, even if current indicators show that this scenario is less and less plausible. Consequently, without rapid and major changes in our lifestyles, there will unfortunately be dramatic consequences on the health of the populations, also in Switzerland. Furthermore, and in the perspective of adapting to the more difficult living conditions linked to climate change, it appears indispensable to adapt our health system, by emphasizing disease prevention aspects.

Why on an individual level is it important to be concerned about the environment for one's health and for future generations?

N.S: Indeed, by realizing this interdependence, it shows the importance of taking care of the natural environment, especially and above all to preserve our own health and that of our children.

Separator

Nicolas Senn obtained a title of Associate Professor at the Faculty of Biology and Medicine (FBM) of the University of Lausanne, while being appointed Director of the University Institute of Family Medicine of the PMU in 2016. Head of Department of Unisanté since its creation in January 2019, Nicolas Senn pursues research activities in parallel. 

He is specialized in tropical and travel medicine and has a PhD in epidemiology.   One of his research axes concerns the link between health and the environment: climate change has an impact on the health of the population and several research works are in progress to understand how it is possible to integrate environmental issues into the clinical part.

About the Lancet Countdown:

Published annually, the Lancet Countdown is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration dedicated to monitoring the changing health profile of climate change, and providing an independent assessment of whether governments around the world are meeting their commitments under the Paris Agreement. Read more.

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