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Our health is compromised by our global fossil fuel addiction

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Climate change threatens to harm the health of people around the world, with more intense and frequent extreme weather events, increased exposure to heat waves, climate-related food insecurity, impaired spread of infectious diseases and exacerbated poor mental health.

These are just some of the conclusions of Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change 2022 reportPosted in The Lancet.

Dirty fuels still dominate our home energy use. Photo: Getty Images

This report represents the contributions of 99 researchers from 51 academic institutions and United Nations agencies and is accompanied by regional reports, including the 5th annual report MJA–Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, which presents the latest evidence on climate change and health here in Australia.

These reports are released in a world facing energy crises, cost of living and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

They identify how the impacts of climate change affect the health of individuals and populations, the consequences of delayed climate action, and the health benefits of phasing out fossil fuels.

This year’s Lancet Global Countdown reveals that:

• Heat-related mortality among people over 65 has increased by two-thirds over the past two decades
• increasing global land area is affected by extreme drought
• increasing climatic suitability for the spread of infectious diseases such as dengue fever and malaria
• Dirty fuels still dominate household energy use, resulting in poor indoor air quality.

In 2021, carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels rebounded to an all-time high, after COVID-related declines in 2020, but government subsidies for fossil fuels often match or exceed their health budgets .

Climate action has immediate and long-term benefits, not only for the Earth’s climate, but also for the health of individuals and populations.

Australia’s transition to renewables and zero carbon remains unacceptably slow. Photo: Getty Images

For example, this year’s report finds that:

• Improving air quality by reducing the burning of fossil fuels could prevent 1.2 million deaths per year
• increasing urban green space can reduce urban heat and improve city air quality
• Low-carbon, plant-rich diets could prevent up to 11.5 million diet-related deaths each year and reduce the risk of zoonotic infectious diseases like COVID-19.

It’s a grim read, but there are signs of hope.

Globally, total clean energy generation reached record levels in 2020, and carbon-free sources accounted for 80% of power generation investment in 2021. For the first time, direct employment and indirect employment in renewables has exceeded direct employment in fossil fuel extraction. Industries.

And a growing number of countries have committed to building low- or zero-carbon healthcare systems.

There is also growing momentum to accelerate the transition to clean and renewable energy sources, in part because it is crucial for a healthy and sustainable future.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently joined health professionals and organizations around the world in calling for an urgent Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty – an international agreement to control harmful substances. for human health – such as coal, oil and gas.

There is growing momentum to accelerate the transition to clean and renewable energy sources. Photo: Getty Images

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calls our addiction to fossil fuels “an act of self-sabotage” on our health.

The WHO has also released a Manifesto for a Green and Healthy Pandemic Recovery, which calls on governments and industry to protect and preserve the source of human health – nature; investing in essential services, from water and sanitation to clean energy in health facilities; and to ensure a rapid and healthy energy transition.

The governments of Wales, Scotland and New Zealand are moving towards a ‘wellbeing economy’, moving beyond gross domestic product (GDP) to a more comprehensive understanding of the links between human health , well-being, ecology and prosperity.

A promising sign is that some Australian policymakers and organizations have moved towards this perspective, which has the potential to build healthier, fairer and more sustainable economies for people and the planet.

This perspective is important because in Australia we are increasingly exposed to excessive heat, extreme weather and other climate risks.

For example, if we look at data on ambulance demand, hospital admissions and mortality, this highlights the health risks associated with exposure to heat waves – especially among people aged over 65, with pre-existing health conditions living in urban areas.

Australia’s transition to renewables and zero carbon remains unacceptably slow. Our emissions reduction target is insufficient and incompatible with the objective of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Heat-related mortality among people over 65 has increased by two-thirds over the past two decades. Photo: Getty Images

There is no strategy to mitigate carbon emissions and toxic pollution from internal combustion engines, and electric vehicles only account for 2% of new car sales.

This is a problem given the urgency to unlock climate action.

Australia does not yet have a National Climate and Health Adaptation Plan, but it is promising that the Commonwealth Government and the Federal Minister of Health have recently committed to developing and implementing a National strategy on climate, health and well-being.

And there are actions at the state level. For example, Victoria recently published a Health and Social Services Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan (2022-2026).

As countries and people face deepening crises, we stand at a critical juncture. It is imperative to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Countries must meet or exceed their commitments to reduce emissions and create a world where warming is limited to less than 2°C and where people can lead healthy lives.

Tackling climate change and transitioning to net zero emissions could be the greatest health opportunity of this century.

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