Climate change is already damaging the health of the world’s children and is set to have lifelong health consequences for future generations, according to a new report.
The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change has found that, if carbon emissions and climate change continue at the current rate, a child born today will face a world on average 4˚C warmer by their 71st birthday, threatening their health at every stage of their lives.
The findings of the report, which is a collaboration between 120 experts from 35 institutions highlight the ways in which climate change is set to shape the wellbeing of an entire generation.
Among the findings,Infants will be among the worst affected by malnutrition and rising food prices: The average global yield potential of maize (-4%), winter wheat (-6%), soybean (-3%), and rice (-4%) has declined over the past 30 years.
Children will be among the most likely to suffer from a rise in infectious diseases: 2018 was the second most climatically suitable year on record for the spread of bacteria that cause much of diarrhoeal disease and wound infection globally while throughout adolescence, the impact of air pollution will worsen, further damaging heart and lung health.
Fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) contributed to over 20,500 premature deaths in the UK in 2016, and coal is linked to 60 deaths a week.
Throughout their adult lives, extreme weather events will intensify. A record 220 million more over 65s were exposed to heatwaves in 2018 compared with 2000—63 million more than in 2017.
The authors of the research are calling for the health impact of climate to be at the forefront of the agenda at the UN Climate Conference (COP25) next month.
Pursuing the Paris Agreement pathway to limit warming to well below 2˚C could allow a child born today to see an end to coal use in the UK by their 6th birthday, and the world reach net-zero emissions by their 31st birthday—securing a healthier future for coming generations, the researchers say.
Professor Hilary Graham, a member of the Lancet Countdown and an author of the report from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York, said: “The Lancet Countdown report on Health and Climate Change makes clear that climate change is taking a heavy toll on people’s health, and the toll is heaviest on those who have contributed least to changing our planet’s climate.
“The report details how children will bear the brunt of these health impacts as they grow up and grow older – and the costs will be even greater for the generations yet to be born.”