A cautionary message from an international team of experts warns that the likelihood of nearly five times more people succumbing to extreme heat in the forthcoming decades is imminent. The experts stress that the “health of humanity is at grave risk” without decisive action on climate change. The peril of lethal heat stands out as one among several threats to human health arising from the ongoing global reliance on fossil fuels, as indicated in The Lancet Countdown—an influential annual evaluation conducted by leading researchers and institutions.
The report underscores the escalating use of fossil fuels, presenting dangers such as increased occurrences of droughts leading to potential famine, the expanded reach of infectious diseases carried by mosquitoes, and the strain on health systems in coping with associated challenges. This grim assessment is delivered amid expectations that this year will be the hottest in recorded human history, with Europe’s climate monitor recently declaring last month as the warmest October on record.
Approaching the COP28 climate talks in Dubai, where December 3 will host a “health day” focusing on the impact of global warming on health for the first time, the report accentuates the imperative for worldwide action. Despite growing calls for action, the report points out that energy-related carbon emissions reached unprecedented levels last year, attributing this to substantial government subsidies and private bank investments in fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.
The Lancet Countdown study discloses that individuals worldwide experienced an average of 86 days with life-threatening temperatures last year, with approximately 60 percent of those days being more than twice as likely due to climate change. The report envisions a substantial surge in heat-related deaths and food insecurity if global warming persists on its current trajectory, potentially leading to a 4.7-fold increase in annual heat-related deaths by 2050.
The study also anticipates the spread of mosquito-borne infectious diseases to new regions, with a 36 percent increase in the transmission of dengue under a 2-degree Celsius warming scenario. Over a quarter of surveyed cities express concerns about climate change overwhelming their capacity to cope.
The report underscores the disproportionate impact on people in economically disadvantaged countries, who often bear the brunt of health impacts and face challenges in accessing funding and technical capacity to adapt to climate-related challenges. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres acknowledges the report, stating that “humanity is staring down the barrel of an intolerable future” and urgently calls for action to address the unfolding health and environmental crises.